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BLDG Memphis spearheads city’s MEMFix efforts

Artwork from local artists is an integral component of MEMFix events.

The benefits of the local MEMFix program, which helps to reinvigorate underutilized areas around the city by redesigning and temporarily activating specific city blocks, have been multifaceted over the past five years. In late September, the MEMFix: Madison + Cleveland event will celebrate the program’s anniversary and highlight an area that connects Midtown to the Medical District and into Downtown.

“When the Innovate Memphis Innovation Delivery Team was initially formed under former Memphis Mayor AC Wharton, its mission was to create programs that would then be spun off to community partners like MEMFix,” said John Paul Shaffer, BLDG Memphis executive director.

The Innovation Delivery Team handled the Crosstown MEMFix event in November 2012 and the Highland & Walker event in April 2013 before BLDG Memphis (then called Livable Memphis) came in to assist on the next two events: South MEMFix in October 2013 and the EDGE District MEMFix event in October 2014.

After that, the program was handed off to BLDG Memphis as the community partner/lead organization, including for last fall’s MEMFix: Film Row event and 2015’s MEMFix: The Pinch event.

“The type of success varies by project, but I think overall MEMFix has a great following and people recognize what it is,” said Shaffer. “I think it’s had value for the public and people who show up for the day, as well as people who show to volunteer leading up to the events. It’s also helped to change how we work with city agencies.”

He cites developing new and innovative relationships with nonprofits along with engineering, public works, MLGW and others.

“There are big financial and development impacts as well, getting out ahead of redevelopment efforts that are coming in and injecting a little more people-centered, street-oriented approaches,” he said.

MEMFix events, based on the Better Block concept, are community-driven and involve tactical urbanism, creative placemaking, and urban prototyping, with neighborhood stakeholders envisioning and recreating livable streets, vibrant public spaces and reinvigorated commercial areas.

“A couple of years ago we started looking at other potential locations, and we came up with a matrix for how we collect them,” said Shaffer. “Having a really strong community partner rose to the top of the list, so when the chance to work with the Memphis Medical District Collaborative came about we thought it would be a good fit for this next MEMFix project.”

The new event will take place on the block of Madison Avenue just west of Cleveland.

“The more focused geographically you can be, the bigger impact you can have,” said Shaffer. “The point of it is to really meet the needs of the people and businesses that are in that space while drawing more attention to the space itself.”

Because of the existing trolley infrastructure in the area, BLDG wants to take a temporary, pop-up approach to street changes for the one-day event.

“There’s a lack of shade and seating - there’s not even seating for people waiting for the bus,” said Shaffer. “There’s a lot of people coming through that space that could use some transit-oriented amenities like phone charging stations or water fountains.”

Art installations or new greenery could be left behind as more permanent changes, and BLDG is partnering with Urban Art Commission, which is working through the Urban Land Institute.

Shaffer points out that new businesses have moved into the area over the past two years, but there are still underutilized storefronts and upstairs living and office space.

Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.
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