Uptown & The Pinch

What we learned from four months On The Ground in Uptown and The Pinch

For the last four months, High Ground News’ On the Ground team has been working from the Pinch District and the Uptown neighborhood as part of an embedded reporting engagement. 

Our goal with the On the Ground series is to help balance coverage in neighborhoods with rich histories and cultures, dedicated neighbors, and promising futures that may also face serious problems like systemic poverty, lack of jobs and resources, and a high rate of crime. These are neighborhoods that are often overlooked by mainstream media but are simultaneously creating some of the city’s boldest and most dynamic solutions to their challenges.

The areas now known as Uptown and The Pinch were once the city’s first subdivision and first industrial and commercial districts. Throughout its 168-year history, this part of town has seen more racial, religious, and economic diversity than arguably any other area of the city. It’s also taken one of the city’s biggest falls and seen one of its greatest resurrections. It’s gone from grand mansions to a bustling working-class community to an abandoned shell of its former self before redevelopment efforts beginning in the late 1990s began the slow but steady rebirth.

Young men play basketball in Booker T. Washington park. (Brandon Dahlberg)
Today, all signs point to an area on the brink of something great. Small business is returning, nonprofits and community organizations are plentiful and making progress, a faith movement is showing divine love through direct action. The community is poised for another wave of big development in both Uptown and The Pinch.

In April we began researching and getting to know the neighborhood, and in May we began reporting. During our time in Uptown-Pinch, the On the Ground team has engaged countless community members. We started by hosting an editorial advisory, a time for community members to tell us about their neighborhood and generate story ideas such as what big developments, key people and places, and hidden gems should be covered. We also checked back in with this group throughout our engagement to get feedback on our continued coverage of their homebase.

We spent time each week working from The Office @ Uptown, a local cafe and on-demand office space at 594 North Second Street. The staff at The Office introduced us to dozens of community members from 50-plus-year residents to heads of churches and nonprofits. Once a week we ate lunch at a different area restaurant for a true taste of the neighborhood and greater exposure.

In three months, we’ve interviewed over 100 stakeholders to produce more than 20 stories, three photo essays, three video essays, and five Facebook Live interviews.

We’ve covered a housing development built by Jimmy Carter and a house that was once allegedly a stop on the Underground Railroad. We’ve examined plans for big development by big institutions like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and a tiny convenience store that’s become a neighborhood institution and earned a reputation for serving one of the country’s best burgers.

Despite the vast diversity of the individual stories, we’ve heard a handful of common threads that craft the broader narrative of Uptown and The Pinch. These are communities with great assets that have been long neglected. These are communities are seeing well-deserved reinvestment, from both the institutional and grassroots levels, but still deeply value their small town feel.

Courtlan Black is all smiles as David Yancey announces him the winner of the boys' aged 13 to 15 division at a skate competition held at the Greenlaw Community Center (Cole Bradley)

These are still diverse communities, both economically and culturally, and they’re committing to maintaining space for all their neighbors as they grow. The neighbors here are kind and complex people who are gifted and committed. Some struggle and some fail, but everyone has place here.

These are the values of Uptown-Pinch and the narrative we hope we elevated throughout our coverage.

While we’re moving our embedding coverage now to The Heights – the area north of Binghampton and Berclair and south of Raleigh – we will continue to cover Uptown-Pinch and add to its story. 

To close out our embedded work in Uptown-Pinch, the On the Ground team is also hosting a special event on Thursday, August 2, at 7 p.m. We’re taking a listening role as community members, people we’ve come to see as partners in creating this body of work, step up to tell their own stories at Up to Us: Storytelling from Uptown and The Pinch. We hope you’ll join us as we say our thank you’s and our see-you-soon’s to Uptown-Pinch.

Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and applied anthropologist. Since 2011, Cole has worked as a researcher, strategist, and community engagement specialist across the city's private, public, and non-profit sectors. Passionate about storytelling, they began contributing to High Ground News in 2017.
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