City fights blight for MLK Day of Service

Community leaders, residents and volunteers from local businesses braved the cold on Monday, January 15 and took to the streets to clean up blighted properties in neighborhoods across Memphis for the second annual MLK Days of Service, led by Volunteer Memphis.

More than 100 service projects were planned for the four-day event running from January 12 to 15 Many projects were postponed due to the winter storm. Corporations and members of SoundCheck, the Greater Memphis Chamber's young professional council, volunteered with Jacob’s Ladder, the neighborhood’s nonprofit CDC in the Beltline area in Midtown.

Jacob’s Ladder executive director Bill Marler, and his wife, Lana, formed the 501c3 in the mid-2000s, and since then they have been hard at work bringing change to the Beltline’s one-square-mile area just to the east of the Fairgrounds and north of Southern Avenue.

“Our efforts have been a long-term blight eradication, and that’s included about 40 demolitions of whole structures, cleanup of about 140 lots and maintaining those, and even rebuilding 25 homes,” said Marler.

“We cleaned up many lots that were just in terrible shape. So we’ve been scrubbing the neighborhood.”

Many lots have code violations, including some that operated as chop shops.

“Ultimately, we will repurpose the lots, but we want to see what they look like first,” said Marler.

More importantly, crime in the area has dropped more than 80 percent since 2006, while just across Southern Avenue crime rates have stayed the same.

“Now that we’ve had a ten-year effort of cleaning, crime has dropped, and the neighborhood’s starting to be safer and friendlier to families,” he added.

Over the years, the CDC has formed strong partnerships with local organizations like Clean Memphis, City Beautiful and the Memphis Police Department.

For Monday’s MLK Day of Service, Jacob’s Ladder and Clean Memphis organized several projects that addressed clearing 17 formerly blighted properties that were recently bulldozed this past November and December. While the winter storm shortened the project list for the day, which had included planting grass on the lots, work was still accomplished by a dedicated group of 25 who cleared several lots.

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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.