Community Development

Submitted by Community Development Council of Greater Memphis

The community development industry in the Mid-South is as diverse as the varied communities in our region. Community development can be explained as members of a community coming together to collectively solve a problem or take action on an issue in that community. In Memphis, this is most often done on the neighborhood level, based on the belief that the residents and stakeholders of a particular community should be the leading voice in physical and social development of that community.  Some community development organizations focus on housing counseling and development, others on organizing neighborhood groups, and still others on neighborhood-level economic development. There is no single definition of what a community development organization is, but there are overarching themes that help define the work. At the end of the day, no matter what part of the region someone lives in, they all want healthy, vibrant, safe neighborhoods.

Community development at its most basic level is developing a structure for neighborhood stakeholders to have a voice in the development of their neighborhood. This means that the members of the neighborhood have, at minimum, a voice in the development or redevelopment of their neighborhood, and at most, have the ability to plan their community for themselves. Neighborhood organizations called community development corporations, or CDCs, are often the lead agencies for developing and implementing a plan for the neighborhoods in which they work, along with neighborhood associations. CDCs work to educate both neighborhood stakeholders and lawmakers on planning principals around quality of life, balanced infrastructure needs, equity, and investment priorities. CDCs also often organize neighborhood stakeholders to actively engage around developments and decisions that are being made that can affect their neighborhoods, including public sector investments or disinvestments. 

In the Memphis region, one of the most prevalent forms of community development work is the mitigation of blight and code enforcement violations. Vacant lots, vacant houses, and blighted buildings can corrupt the safety of a neighborhood, and cause decline in property values. CDCs and neighborhood associations usually lead this charge, as well, contacting local government offices and public officials to complain about the presence of blighted properties in the neighborhood. In 2014, nearly 1,000 blighted buildings were demolished by the City of Memphis. So far in 2015, another nearly 850 buildings have been demolished.

These complaints can then be tracked and elevated if the properties are not cared for or fixed. Neighborhood stakeholders can also file complaints about code issues by calling 3-1-1 or submitting a complaint online here. In the first ten months of 2015, City of Memphis 3-1-1 averaged 1,266 code enforcement service requests per month, in addition to the over 1,400 service requests initiated by code enforcement officials themselves. The Top Ten Common Code Violations for Memphis and Shelby County can be found here, and a list of the codes for the City of Memphis can be found here.

Community development organizations also help connect people to transportation options in the neighborhood, parks and environmental resources, housing resources, and health and human services agencies. Community development is the intersection of all the things that make a neighborhood strong and livable.

The way a city works, and the mechanisms that tie it together – roads, parks, and neighborhoods – can be complex to understand. However, it is important that stakeholders in a community understand these networks so that they can participate in the process of developing them properly for their neighborhoods. You can learn more about community engagement in these issues and organizations that are helping people navigate these systems here.

Additional Resources

Community Development Council of Greater Memphis and Livable Memphis

Community LIFT

Memphis City Beautiful

Clean Memphis

Memphis and Shelby County Environmental Court

Memphis 3.0 Comprehensive Planning Process