By Michelle Corbet

Today begins a new chapter on the fight against blight in Memphis and Shelby County.

After several months of discussing the city’s blight crisis, a group of grassroots advocates, corporate leaders, elected officials and land use experts have unveiled a 23-page document to set the tone moving forward.

The Memphis Neighborhood Blight Elimination Charter will serve as both a playbook and game plan for blight abatement action, said Steve Barlow, the catalyst behind Neighborhood Preservation Inc.

The Charter is expected to be presented and explained during the Blight Elimination Summit March 17 at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphrey’s School of Law.

A steering committee worked with local anti-blight advocacy group Neighborhood Preservation Inc. and nationally-renowned blight abatement professionals Joe Schilling, senior researcher at the Urban Institute, and Kermit Lind, clinical professor emeritus at the Cleveland Marshall College of Law, to draft the charter.

With today marking the start of the NCAA tournament, Schilling said, he’s been contemplating where Memphis would rank nationally in terms of combating blight.

“I’d say Memphis would be a No. 2 seed,” Schilling said. “It’s certainly in the top 10 cities who are making a significant commitment to take a more comprehensive approach to blight abatement.”

Combining all elements of blight abatement together in as single document is unique to Memphis.

“No other city has taken this approach,” Schilling said.

Lind said the hypothetical rankings, taken over time, would show Memphis climbing the ranks in this blight-fighting championship.

“Other cities would say Memphis is one to watch,” Lind said. “Things are going to be happening there that set the pace and mark on how to deal with abandoned properties.”

The Memphis Neighborhood Blight Elimination Charter takes different elements of Memphis’ blight story and boils it down to 10 core principals, Schilling said. It also calls for a new culture of care and renewal.

“There is a culture of blight in Memphis,” Schilling said. “People have become numb to seeing blighted properties, and out of fear or frustration, it is being ignored.”

Neighborhood Preservation Inc., which coordinated the development of the charter, estimates at least 13,000 structures or vacant lots currently qualify as blight in Memphis.

The Charter includes a rousing vision statement – “Every neighborhood in Memphis and in Shelby County has the right to be free from the negative impacts and influences caused by vacant, abandoned and blighted properties” – which is based on 10 core principles:

1. Acknowledge that blighted properties in Memphis neighborhoods harm the whole city and the region.
2. Understand that blighted properties are more than just a matter of appearance — they reflect complex underlying economic and social challenges
3. Demand collaboration and strong leadership across all sectors, organizations, and initiatives.
4. Expand information systems’ capabilities and capacities to ensure better data driven decision-making.
5. Develop a policy system that continually adapts and refines its policies, procedures, and programs.
6. Initiate strategic proactive interventions and investment.
7. Engage and empower the community in neighborhood stabilization and revitalization activities to address blighted properties.
8. Encourage a new culture of care and renewal through a mix of incentives and penalties.
9. Link blighted property remediation policies and programs with Memphis’ land use, community development, and economic development plans and relevant regulations, codes and development processes.
10. Position Memphis as a national leader for developing innovative blight elimination solutions

The charter calls for the next step of creating a Blight Elimination Coordinating Team to develop and oversee an Action Plan that will create a framework for accomplishing the ambitions of the Charter.

Original Article