New Face for Old Vance 

Vance residents identify priorities for neighborhood redevelopment.

The community surrounding Vance Avenue is currently home to aging public housing and rundown corner stores. But that neighborhood is about to get a facelift.

On July 12th, Vance Avenue residents gathered at the Emmanuel Episcopal Center to discuss priorities for the city's planned redevelopment of the Vance area. Among those priorities were public safety, community policing, alternative transportation, and a neighborhood 12-step recovery program.

In 2011, Memphis was awarded a $250,000 grant to develop a blueprint to revitalize the Vance Avenue community as part of the federally funded Choice Neighborhoods Initiative.

The grant, which is being administered by the Memphis Housing Authority, the Metropolitan Inter-faith Association, and the University of Memphis, focuses on the 38126 zip code.

Since March, Vance residents, members of the Vance Avenue Collaborative, and the city's housing authority held meetings to discuss how to improve the neighborhood.

About 100 people attended at last week's meeting, which focused on six of about 40 priorities that residents identified throughout the year as areas that need improvement within the neighborhood. There was a board for each of the six topics.

"We're showing residents the democratic process to planning and redevelopment," said Karen Thornton, community outreach coordinator for the Vance Avenue Choice Neighborhood Initiative. "That's why we're having these neighborhood improvement project meetings, so we can make sure the residents are voicing what they want their community to look like."

The next step is composing a report from input that's been gathered in each of the meetings for an implementation grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That grant will provide around $35 million of federal funds for redeveloping the Foote Homes housing project along with other neighborhood improvements that residents identified in meetings.

One of the most significant issues involved expanding the area's access to healthy foods.

The nearest grocery stores are located up to 3 miles from the neighborhood. Considering that about 80 percent of Vance residents lack access to an automobile, that leaves many families with no choice but to purchase their groceries from neighborhood convenience stores, according to Ken Reardon, director of the U of M's graduate program in city and regional planning.

Carrie Yancey, who has been a resident of Vance for 47 years, said placing something as simple as a grocery store in the area would impact the community significantly.

"I would love to see a supermarket in the area," Yancey said. "The old one was torn down. Now we have nothing but the corner stores and they're sky-high. It's nothing healthy. Just a lot of junk. They don't have produce. They may have a meat counter with salami that looks like it's 100 years old, but who wants to eat that?"

Through the initiative, the group is introducing the Green Machine — a MATA bus transformed into a mobile food market. The bus will have five weekly routes with three to five daily stops, outside of Vance, in areas such as North and South Memphis, Frayser, Raleigh, and East Memphis. The bus is scheduled to launch in September.

Thornton said obtaining funding to improve the area is "terribly important."

"Whether or not the city decides to tear down Foote Homes, it's important that we have these funds so that social services can be put in place so [the community] doesn't have the same problems but with new faces," Thornton said. "The area's still a food desert no matter who you put there. These funds will help guarantee that there are more social services for those of low income."

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