By Karanja A. Ajanaku, The New Tri-State Defender
Dr. Carnita Atwater, representing the New Chicago Community Development Corporation, was about 50 minutes into her Monday press conference in North Memphis when a television reporter interrupted. He asked if the bottom line was that she was just upset for having been left out of the Memphis 3.0. plan.
Atwater took the question in stride, having heard the essence of it before and fully expecting to hear again.
It’s not about me. We are upset, she said, pressing that the people standing with her represented multiple groups with deep-rooted interests in the area. A plan had evolved from those interests and they are not reflected in Memphis 3.0, she said.
Memphis 3.0. is a proposed land use and development plan envisioned as a 20-year road map. With several dozen North Memphis residents on hand for “a show of force,” the Memphis City Council on Tuesday put off its initial vote on the plan for two weeks, pending a community meeting.
Thus far, City administrators don’t see things the way Atwater and her associates do. They point out that Atwater and her group attended hearings where the Memphis 3.0 plan was discussed.
Atwater does not dispute that she has attended meetings. She recalled introducing Mayor Jim Strickland – by invitation – at one of the sessions. Having attended and taken time to read the 495-page document is why she so vehemently protests going forward with it.
Standing outside the City Council Chambers after Tuesday’s vote to delay, Atwater said the group is open to the upcoming meeting.
“I think we need a community comprehensive plan, but let the plan include all of the citizens, not just a few…When we looked at the plan, we did not have the funding [for the North Memphis area]. You can’t revitalize the community without funding New Chicago, Walker Homes and other African-American communities. We have our own revitalization plan that they did not put into Memphis 3.0.”
Putting an emphasis on green space, bicycle and walking trails and more environmental assessments won’t cut it for those areas, Atwater said.
“We want TIFF, we want TDZ, we want incentives, we want capital funding, we want home development and we also want community builders grants…We have not received those in 30 to 40 years…
“All we talk about is new development. Development for who? Building up and not out, that’s new apartments for the creative class. Who are the creative class? Mostly young, white millennials. What about the community that’s suffering?”
Radio personality Michael Adrian Davis was among those aligned with Atwater and the North Memphis residents at Monday’s press conference and again at Tuesday’s council meeting. He told council members that he read Memphis 3.0.
“This is a major deal,” he said. “I think it is too important for us to rush this. Two years invested is cool, but there needs to be more time invested…
“Many people are living day-to-day and just make ends meet. Many people in the African-American community aren’t really thinking 5, 10, 15 years ahead and that’s where you guys come in,” Davis said. “I would suggest that we table this and allow us to saturate the community with this plan.”
Having looked at the plan, Davis said he noticed the absence of specific funding and investment for the North Memphis area.
“We don’t need Starbucks over there, we just need Joe’s coffee shop… We need the ability to provide for ourselves and allow whites to come into our neighborhood and buy from us as we have done through this entire city for all of our history.”
Before the council was a request to approve the plan on the first of three required readings. Following a motion by City Councilman Berlin Boyd, the council voted to delay action at least until a community meeting can be held for the North Memphis area.
Doug McGowen, the city’s chief operating officer, briefly noted that there had been hearings on the plan in North Memphis.
“We’ve been waiting 38 years for a comprehensive plan,” he said, adding that a two-week delay was “not too much to ask.”
City officials say 15,000 people had input into the plan. Atwater and her group want to see the evidence of that. They assert having 10,000 returned questionnaires of their own regarding the Memphis 3.0. plan.
The first question asks whether the person filling it out knows anything about the Memphis 3.0 plan. “No,” is the predominant response, Atwater said, pointing out that the Internet was used heavily to take in comments about Memphis 3.0 and that New Chicago and other such areas have limited access to the Internet.
If the City Council ultimately embraces Memphis 3.0, Atwater said the “fight will be on.” She envisions a multi-million dollar lawsuit, maybe even a billion dollars.
That figure caused a gruff from a member of the press corps on Monday.
“Why Not? Don’t you think we are worth it?” she asked.
Atwater said opposition to Memphis 3.0 is not an anti-Strickland move. She asserted that New Chicago has been getting shortchanged for years that predate Strickland and that other elected officials that represent the area have not stepped up aggressively or consistently.
Research and documentation is a big part of the lexicon for Atwater. There were pages and pages of documents spread out on tables at the Monday press conference. The documents note efforts to secure grants from local funding bodies and, she said, back up her claim that one such application (from her) was reported not received when it indeed had been submitted.
At its core, Memphis 3.0 is structured to foster gentrification, she said. Others have raised concerns about gentrification, she said, producing two college-level studies probing that in Memphis.
Do your homework, she said. “We’ve done ours.”