Neighborhood Revitalization through Culture, Community, and Creativity | Jason Jackson | TEDxMemphis

Neighborhood Revitalization through Culture, Community, and Creativity | Jason Jackson | TEDxMemphis


Translator: Andréia Matias
Reviewer: Mirjana Čutura There’s an inherent beauty in utilizing
the resources available and repurposing that allows for authenticity while simultaneously being able to create
something new and different and inspire change. I grew up in a low-income neighborhood, and we had to be pretty resourceful. My sisters and I shared a room, and to give us each
our own sense of space, my mother made us little houses
out of refrigerator boxes. She stitched them together
with colorful yarn and made doors and windows, and that completely
transformed the room for us. Her creativity and resourcefulness
and that power of transformation has always stuck with me. And I’ve always been inspired
by what can be done with very little: ingenuity born out of necessity. In my practice as an architect, I’ve also come to realize
the power of creativity and resourcefulness
and economic constraints. In our studio, we like
to take on little projects that challenge us to bend
and shape everyday objects that might otherwise be discarded into something new, with new purpose, like turning an old door
into a beautiful chair or reusing milk crates as an inexpensive
way to create unique shelving and lighting for a pop-up shop on South Main. In 2012, we started working
with a local nonprofit, Community Lift, on a renovation project
in Soulsville, USA, in South Memphis. The project was to turn the historic home of the legendary
blues musician Memphis Slim into a community recording studio. The idea was to use art and music
to create a community space that would spur economic
and cultural revitalization in Soulsville. A little background about Soulsville. In its day, Soulsville
was a happening place. It was a place where diverse musicians
with diverse sounds converged to create something new
in American soul music. Unfortunately, after World War II, streetcar lines that had really
contributed to early growth and connected the neighborhood
to the greater Memphis area were removed. And the events surrounding
the assassination of Doctor Martin Luther King Junior and school desegregation, all led to the departure
of a lot of middle-class residents. And the neighborhood
fell into major economic decline. Memphis Slim grew up
right in the center of Soulsville, across the street
from Stax Recording Studio. And growing up, he had kind of a hard life,
and yet his music was surprisingly upbeat. His life embodied
the paradox of his music. And as we began to immerse ourselves
in the neighborhood and started collaborating
with the community on this project, I realized that the residents
had this same mentality. That even though their neighborhood
faced many challenges, they were very proud of their history
and extremely optimistic about the future. So, given some
of my experiences growing up, I immediately felt a strong
connection to the community. And together we asked ourselves, “Can we take this old dilapidated house
with such important history and transform it into something
new for the community? Can we make it a resource that embraces
the energy of the community while also looking to the future?” First, we would have to get
inside the house. And the house had seen better days. We began to remove layers of the house
to assess the structure, and we found that
the foundations were too rotted and that the structure was too far gone. And we quickly realized
that our renovation project would become a rebuilding project. And this would make funds even tighter, and then we would have to be
even more resourceful. So, we salvaged everything we could. We saved all of the wood
framing from the house. We saved all of the bricks
from the fireplace. And we rebuilt the house. We built it back to its original form, using local, economical
and reclaimed materials. We clad the house with cedar fencing
and corrugated metal. We wanted to poetically reflect
the original character of the house while also celebrating
this new community-oriented purpose. So, we carved out
big openings in the front to really welcome the community in. And we transformed the front porch, where Memphis Slim
and Isaac Hayes and Rufus Thomas could often be heard playing, into a stage for the neighborhood. And it really became an active place
in the community again. They started using it for everything,
from an art gallery to community meetings, and folks from all over Memphis
could come and share their stories. So, we wanted to leverage
this new energy around the house, and we started thinking
about the spaces outside the house and how we can engage
the neighborhood further. And in a couple of weekends,
the community came together, and they transformed the vacant lot
next door into an outdoor music venue, using reclaimed church pews and some of the construction materials
left over from the Slim house. And now folks from
all over the neighborhood can come and enjoy a monthly music series. But more importantly than that
is that they have a space where they can talk about their ideas
and connect and share with others. So, we began having conversations about how we could tackle
some of the bigger challenges facing the neighborhood: economic inequality, safety,
mentoring youth and fostering community. We were seeing it happen on a small scale, but could we come up with a plan
to address the neighborhood as a whole? In having these conversations, we realized that the greatest asset
that the neighborhood has are the people themselves. And could we harness
the power of the residents to now create a network of spaces
for collective problem solving and building on the social relationships
of the different sectors of the community? As you go through Soulsville, one thing you’ll notice –
like many places like Soulsville – is there’s a lot of people that walk,
a lot of people ride their bikes. And not for recreation,
but for transportation. A lot of friends and families
hang out on the front porch and out in the neighborhood. And we thought, “Can we use these spaces,
the spaces in between the buildings, to create a platform for the residents
to interact with one another? Could we use the sidewalks, the streets,
the vacant lots and blighted properties to tackle some of these issues
that face the neighborhood?” So, we came up with a plan
for McLemore Avenue, the central strip of Soulsville, to build on the existing cultural assets and transform the strip
into a cultural corridor. The plan would enhance the entrances
to the neighborhood, provide much needed amenities
and connect people to local businesses, using low cost, high-impact solutions that the folks in the community
could design and implement themselves. As you come to the neighborhood
down McLemore Avenue, the entrance is marked
with the “I heart Soulsville” mural. And with simple creative solutions,
like street paint to slow down traffic and rock gardens to activate
the empty lots as public plazas and artistic crosswalks
to increase pedestrian safety, we can transform
this entrance into a gateway that lets people know
they’re entering some place special. As you continue down the corridor, there’s a lot of opportunity
in the vacant lots and blighted properties to repurpose them with pop-up amenities
like community gardens and pocket parks – programs that can be implemented quickly
to have an immediate impact. These spaces are then connected
through a shared-street strategy, where pedestrians, bicyclists,
automobiles and mass transit are all treated equally. And something important to note here is that’s the existing
57-foot right-of-way. It’s just been redefined. As you get to the core
of the neighborhood, many cultural assets converge, including Stax Museum,
LeMoyne-Owen College, the Memphis Slim House. Hundreds of students and visitors
and tourists come to this area daily, but they’re not currently engaging
the rest of the neighborhood. Visitors to Stax are dropped off
right at the front door. They stay for a couple hours, and they get right back
on the bus and leave. There’s a huge opportunity
to engage these visitors with the rest of the neighborhood. Looking at a plan of that same area, with creative paint installations
that claim the sidewalks and the streets, we can increase the safety and walkability
among these cultural assets and encourage new local
businesses to thrive, transforming the core of the neighborhood
into one large outdoor room, creating a space for the community
to come together. Vacant lots are then activated
with bike-share plazas and food-truck lots, infilling the core
with new local services. The community has already
begun implementing many of these initiatives themselves: just last week adding artistic benches
to the “I heart Soulsville” plaza. Others may see Soulsville
as a blighted neighborhood with many obstacles before them. But for the community and myself, we see a place with rich history
and endless opportunities, that with creativity, resourcefulness
and optimism anything is possible. Thank you. (Applause) Thank you.

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6 thoughts on “Neighborhood Revitalization through Culture, Community, and Creativity | Jason Jackson | TEDxMemphis”

  • The real goal/success would be to create a tightly knit community that continues to take these sort of actions on their own. That way it's self sustaining and ever growing.

  • Thank you, I just spent the last hour looking for ideas to impact my community, I'm literally leaving right now to go scope my community with fresh eyes to see potential and form a plan which I will ask my neighbourhood to help implement.