October is Community Planning Month, and Memphis' Blight Elimination Steering Team (BEST) is hosting its semiannual Neighborhood Preservation Summit to celebrate the role good planning has in creating great communities and honor Memphians who are fighting the often-daunting battle against blighted properties in Shelby County.
"These awards are about honoring the people who are stubborn about doing the right thing," said Neighborhood Preservation, Inc. Project Manager and summit organizer Imani Jasper. "I love that we are able to take the time to really focus on people who insist on creating good in their neighborhoods and in the world. I’m really excited to see our blight fighters being celebrated this year."
This year's summit will feature four workshops with virtual and in-person ticket options staggered across the first two weeks of October. It will culminate with the 2021 Neighborhood Preservation Summit Awards celebration on October 15.
There are 11 awards up for grabs, including best of 2021 awards for grassroots leaders, law students, developers, community organizations, and residential and commercial properties.
to nominate a person, group, or property. Click here
for a description of each award category. Nominations close September 20.
"One of the beautiful parts of Community Planning Month is that it’s not just planners who do good planning," said Neighborhood Preservation, Inc. Program Manager Imani Jasper.
Neighborhood Preservation, Inc. Program Manager Imani Jasper. (Submitted)
"It’s people like Mr. Ballard — who won last year — who are actively leading and engaging their neighborhood association," Jasper continued. "Or the Gethsemane Garden COGIC group who hosted an entire educational series on different ways to improve and strengthen their community. Or Faith Merriweather who did amazing work prosecuting blighted properties in Environmental Court. All of whom are past [summit] award winners."
NPI is one of BEST's core organizing partners. The BEST coalition includes two dozen businesses, educational institutions, nonprofits, government entities, and community organizations who work together to address blight in Shelby County from multiple angles, including policy reform, affordable housing initiatives, home improvement grants, community clean-ups, and more.
Tickets for the summit's workshops are $5 each or all four for $15 for virtual attendance. In-person attendance is $15 per session or $50 for the entire series. In-person capacity will be limited for safety. Also for safety, the award ceremony will be invitation-only for in-person attendance, but the general public can attend virtually.
Jasper said workshop attendees can expect to take away a set of tools and information that can be put to immediate use towards fighting blight in any community.
"At past summits, we’ve spent time spotlighting really important procedures and systems which was fantastic and necessary, but this year we have tool kits and information that are ready for immediate implementation, and I’m beyond excited to put this into people’s hands in October," she said.
The workshops will focus on the work of each BEST's four committees and how that work is applicable throughout the city.
The workshop schedule and committees are:
- October 4: “Come-in-Unity/Community” - Community Engagement
- October 6: "6 Ways to (Not) Be Declared a Public Nuisance” - Code Enforcement
- October 8: "Making Data Tools Work for You” - Data
- October 13: “Dirt to Design: Debuting New Tools & Resources for Vacant Lots” - Reclaim & Reuse
for more information on workshop registration and content.
"The workshops at both our summit and HCD’s State of Housing Summit are about spotlighting ways that everyone can come together to create a great community, and I think everyone should attend and see how they can join in," said Jasper.
The summit's closing October 15 award ceremony will include an opportunity to hear from city and county officials about their aspirations for the Memphis community. An event press release said the keynote speech promises a unique perspective on the issue of neglected property.
Jasper said it's important to celebrate every win in the fight against blight because the problem runs deep and progress can be slow
"These are problems that you chip away at, you try to get the wheel moving, and over time you build up momentum," said Jasper. "But while you’re building momentum, it can be hard to find the time to look back and see the progress you’ve made. Summits force us to look at the progress we’ve made and celebrate our accomplishments, really becoming our own cheerleaders in this work."
"That goes double, triple for the award winners because for a lot of them, blight fighting isn’t their day job," she continued. "They are passionate about the work, but they do it not for compensation but because they feel passionately about improving their city, their community. I think they should be celebrated way more often but at least at the summit every 18 months, we can do this for them."
Jasper also noted that the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development is a Neighborhood Preservation Summit partner, and that Memphians can round out the month with HCD's own 2021 State of Memphis Housing Summit, which has been held on October 29 since its inaugural year in 2019.
"October is going to be a fantastic time to learn about our community and celebrate each other. Don’t miss out," she said.