A North Memphis community leader Saturday announced plans to sue the city over its new 20-year comprehensive development strategy that she says will lead to more gentrification and displacement of African-American residents.
Dr. Carnita Atwater spoke to about 30 people gathered outside the New Chicago Community Development Center Saturday morning to protest what they see as the lack of economic development planned for African-American neighborhoods in the city’s plan, called Memphis 3.0.
“They’re talking about ‘Memphis has momentum.’ For whom? In what communities?… When (the city) gives tax incentives to large corporations but you have African-Americans losing their property daily, you have gentrification,” said Atwater, the director of the New Chicago Community Partnership Revitalization CDC.
She plans to sue the city for $10 billion, what she calculates is the cost of decades of disinvestment.
Memphis 3.0 is timed to coincide with the city’s bicentennial in May and to steer the city into its third century. “In our third century,” reads the Memphis 3.0 website, “Memphis will build up, not out. Memphis will be a city that anchors growth on strengths of the core and neighborhoods; a city of greater connectivity and access; a city of opportunity for all.”
Although the plan was developed over the course of more than two years, opposition has stalled its implementation. The plan requires three readings before City Council, which delayed a March vote until its April 2 meeting.
Part of Atwater’s strategic plan — “we have one, too” — is to bring in third parties from outside Memphis to investigate the inequity, she said.
“We’re not going to repeat history and let them do what they did 40, 50 years ago.”
The 3.0 plan focuses on growth “anchors,” such as Downtown, the Medical District and neighborhoods, where there would be investments in infrastructure, housing and transit. Although the plan addresses some of the issues Atwater emphasizes, including neighborhood development and transit, she said poor neighborhoods like hers fall through the gaps.
Memphis has an overall poverty rate of 24.6 percent and 28.9 percent for African-American residents, compared with a national poverty rate of 13.4 percent and 22.9 percent for African-Americans nationwide, according to the 2017 American Community Survey.
In the census tract where Atwater’s community development corporation is, the median household income is less than $17,000.
Atwater also questioned the plan’s focus on improvements for cyclists in the 14 districts outlined in the plan.
“Who do you think these bike lanes are for? We can’t ride our bikes to work. We need buses, we need transportation.”
Dr. Atwater often looked to Janice Banks of Small Planet Works to confirm details of the recent developments concerning the 3.0 plan.
Banks said the focus of the plan is on those communities that have been designated for the growth of the core like downtown and everything within the Interstate 240 loop.
“My concern is what happens to folks who get displaced involuntarily?” Banks said.
“Look historically at these recent Hope VI projects and choice neighborhood developments. The result has been displacement. The rents did go up and people were not able to afford to come back.”
A handful of others spoke, including former University of Memphis basketball player Linda Street and Andre Mathews, who said he was a member of the Oka Nashoba Chickasaw Nation, African-Americans with Chickasaw heritage.
Atwater covered a series of other topics at the event, including the way black communities are portrayed in local news.
“Every time the TV news puts crime in black neighborhoods on TV, I want them to show the violence the city of Memphis is perpetrating against us,” Atwater said.
“You, brothers and sister, are not your enemy. Memphis 3.0 is your enemy.”
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit reporting project on economic justice in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation and Community Change.