University District

Graduation day: What we learned from four months of reporting in the University District

After four months of community engagement and embedded reporting, High Ground News’ On the Ground coverage in the University District has come to a close. In May, we will relocate the On the Ground community newsroom to Madison Heights and start our next period of intensive research and neighborhood collaboration. 

In the University District, which includes at least six distinct residential neighborhoods, we’ve worked with neighbors, business owners and other community leaders to generate our On The Ground content. We've hosted weekly community newsrooms at the Belltower Artisan coffee shop and pottery studio, where stakeholders stopped by to share story ideas and feedback on ongoing coverage. We hosted editorial advisory sessions to undercover the most important neighborhood assets and concerns. We've worked closely with our community partner, the University Neighborhoods Development Corporation, and attended neighborhood association meetings and other community events to capture as many perspectives as possible.

Community engagement formed the foundation of our coverage which includes 22 articles, three photo essays, three video essays and three On the Ground Podcast episodes, as well as seven Facebook Live video interviews and three months of daily social media content.

Related: “On the Ground Podcast: Kicking off our University District coverage with Cody Fletcher
Related: “On The Ground Podcast: University of Memphis plans to share prosperity across University District

On April 2, High Ground hosted a farewell event at The Bluff. At the panel discussion and  community conversation, four neighborhood stakeholders spoke about their concerns and hopes for the University District's growth.

The panelists included Vania Barraza, University District resident and University of Memphis professor; Cody Fletcher, executive director of University Neighborhoods Development Corp.; Richie Jarvis, owner of Trilogy Tattoos and Piercing and Aubrey Toldi, University of Memphis student and University District resident.

Related: “In photos: A day in the life at Fire Station 18 on Southern Avenue
Related: “Memphis mosques gear up for four weeks of "Muslims in Memphis" festivities
Related: “Video: This anti-graffiti team paints a better future for the University District

"Progress and Pressures in University District Redevelopment" takes place on April 2 at The Bluff. (Ziggy Mack)

Panelists and audience members at the April 2nd event highlighted many of the same assets and addressed many of same challenges we heard throughout our coverage. Most assets and challenges stem from the district's deep relationship with its anchor institution, the University of Memphis.

Namely, the area is experiencing quick and concentrated development focused on students and young professionals near the university's main campus while most stakeholders want to see more strategic development that benefits all members of the community. 

The district's neighborhoods were born from its influx of students, staff and alum, and those same stakeholders still guide much of its growth. The university adds congestion and a constantly changing population, but it also brings economic stability, partnerships and investment. The fast influx of commercial development and new high-rise apartments led by demand for privatize student housing has taxed utilities and roads and adds concerns parking and safety, but this new growth also brings amenities, customers and residents.

Related: “Beyond the Memphis State Eight: The civil rights fight for equality at the University of Memphis
Related: “Married to the game: When Tigers score, Memphis small business wins
Related: “Going public: What you can do at University of Memphis as a community member

Community leaders and institutions including the University Neighborhoods Development Corporation and University of Memphis are now turning attention towards more sustainable and equitable development that spreads investment beyond Highland Street and protects lower-income neighborhoods like Beltline, Sherwood Forest and Messick-Buntyn from gentrification.

Related: “Passing cars: University District looks beyond car travel for solutions to congestion
Related: "High-rises on Highland are a test for Memphis 3.0"
Related: “Sharing the wealth: Planning underway for equitable growth in University District

While High Ground is longer embedded in the University District, we’re still committed to spotlighting the neighborhood’s dynamic people and rapid growth and are looking forward to documenting its continued growth.

Pauls Pujats practices pole vaulting at the University of Memphis South Campus. (Ziggy Mack)

Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and began contributing to High Ground in Jan 2017. 
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