Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Question Of The Week: Wherefore Whitehaven?

We welcome any contributions to this weekly suggestion box feature and hope you will feel free to send in your ideas for improving Memphis to

In the meantime, here's our question for the week:

If you had the power to take definitive actions to fight the abandonment and decline of Whitehaven, what would you do?

This question is inspired by an email a couple of weeks ago from Second Strangeness, who rightly (in our opinion at least) called Whitehaven "the sleeping giant of Memphis." We agree with his interest in this part of the city, because despite its wounded image, Whitehaven is filled with great housing stock on rolling terrain. Fatally flawed city policy on housing and urban redevelopment are part of the problem, but so is white flight.

Now, the new owner of Elvis' immortal remains claims that he is going to turn the area into Las Vegas east, and based on our history of people on white horses promising us the moon, the verdict is still out. But with the anchor of our city's tourism industry in Whitehaven at Graceland and with the aerotropolis notion just getting into the air, what's would you do to turn around this critically important section of Memphis?


sherman said...

You got to fix the zoning 1st as it is anything goes right now.

If you can do that(!), then you should focus on the area's strength:
1) Elvis
2) Music Heritage
3) Southern Food (BBQ & Soul food galore)

While Elvis is the easy anchor, you also have Al Green's church, Furry Lewis' grave, Hernando's Hideway, Bad Bob's, a gateway to Jerry Lee's home in Hernando, Bar-Kays hqs, the Executive Inn, the Manhattan Club etc. Not bad for one neighborhood! In fact, few neighborhoods in the world would have nearly as much of the music history/heritage this neighborhood has and none other has a Graceland. (You even have a satellite radio station broadcasting Memphis music 24/7--talk about an asset! How rare and convenient is that!) So, Elvis is the driver, but you got a lot more than the King going musically...

Then for food, you have A&R bbq, Marlowe's, D'Bos, the original Memphis Krispy Kreme, Grandma's, many tasty hot wings & fried chicken joints, etc. (Not to mention Payne's, Coletta's, Stein's, Ellen's BBQ, & several others in the adjacent neighborhood). Play this angle up: some of the best eating in the south (the whole country?) all at very reasonable prices.

You definitely need to spend some jack on urban design (maps to locales/signage/historical markers etc--all easily done esp. with a visitors center at your main entrance point), though, because the unencumbered development from the '60s til now has made one unaesthetically pleasing locale for sure.

If (when?) Sillerman makes his amphitheater across from Graceland, a festival (or festivals) celebrating the music (& food) of the neighborhood is a no brainer.

It's a daunting task since the suburb is so massive, and it will take a lot of money to dress up what has taken almost 50 years to screw up, but you gotta go with the strengths. Basically you have an intl. embassy with an almost insatiable demand of national/intl. customers coming to a neighborhood replete with car dealers, industrial/corporate warehouses, mediocre strip malls, and fast food joints. They are coming despite the surroundings! Imagine if the surroundings had decent hotels, nicer streetscapes, & less crime!

No wonder Sillerman saw a bargain at $75 million plus stock.

Stranger said...

You start with two strips. The Elvis Presely Blvd cooridor from Graceland up to I-55 with Brooks road being a "gateway" of sorts with the Visitor;s Center being there. The Visitor's Center needs to expand.

The car lots and junk places up and down the street need to be replaced with major hotels and nice restaurants.

The other strip is on Winchester from the Airport leading to Elvis Presley Blvd.

To spark growth, both strips need some type of tax incentives as well as an aggressive plan to recruit more hotels and restaurants into that strip

Dwayne said...

I lived in Whitehaven for several years and have a lot of fondness for it. Many former residents like to nostalgically think of the old days and think of newer suburbs as the “new Whitehaven.”

The seeds of blight were there in the old days however. Much of the Northern part was overbuilt with cheap apartments and there was too much haphazard commercial; and industrial development.

I would concentrate on closing and clearing multihousing and commercial activity that does not meet more stringent standards than exist currently. Current owners should be charged with the demolition costs. Much of this land should be used for large urban parkland in conjunction with a greenway along Nonconnah Creek.

Brooks Road needs to be cleaned up, so does Elvis Presley South to Graceland. You didn’t mention that Whitehaven and vicinity is the economic engine of the Memphis area. On the North end is smith and Nephew and Medtronics. Of course the airport on the East and the many truck lines along Brooks and nearby plus Johnson Yards (RR) off of Horn Lake.

These businesses need to be organized and motivated to work together for the clean up of the area.

As you said, Whitehaven has many nice settled neighborhoods. The part that is between EP and the tracks contains older homes, many of them pre WWII, that are ripe for renovation activities similar to that of Cooper Young and North Memphis in recent years. A program like this, with good marketing, can bring back young singles and marrieds and serve as a basis for rejuvenating the area. Also, the affordability should be used by enterprising real estate investors as a draw for young families.

All of these combined plus other imaginative ideas can bring Whitehaven back.

Renee said...

Anyone here have one of those bumper stickers that says "Whitehaven is my kind of Memphis"?!!

Everyone I've met who has lived in Whitehaven has some pride in it as a community, and those feelings are not necessarily rooted in the popularity of Elvis Presley, although it's not surprising that Elvis chose to live in a soulful area like Whitehaven.

Though I understand the thought behind "bring Whitehaven back" the terminology is mis-oriented. Like other sprawling neighborhoods in Memphis, we will "go back to Whitehaven", not the other way around. Whitehaven has some strength of its own for Memphis to connect to.

Having grown up there, I've always sensed the community there is very strong...and getting stronger. People willingly work together there - which really hints that they are an advanced community in some ways, if not in their physical environs. And, Whitehaven is tough, in the sense that toughness is a resilience to breaking while being stressed. How does a 'smart'city connect the successful small pockets of strength within a community, in order to bring a larger community together?

It's so exciting to see discussion about Whitehaven! Several years ago, the Whitehaven Community Development Corporation put strong efforts into the improvement of the 'Elvis Presley Corridor'... is that organization still strong?

What are the current master projects going on in Whitehaven??

sherman said...

Elvis chose to live in "Whitehaven" because Graceland was out in the country on a two lane highway--before the strip malls, fast food joints, car dealers, and, frankly, Whitehaven arrived.

If the community in current Whitehaven is so strong, how come it continues electing such weak representation that does nothing about the blight?

I agree with both stranger and Dwayne. Fixing the two strips is key. One problem that offers me cognitive dissonance is how do you reconcile two different, conflicting constituents (with a third being the neighborhood folks driving through to and from work each day): the transportation/truck industry tied to Fedex and the national/intl. visitors looking for a great vacation experience. More industry means more traffic & trucking; beautifying the area for more tourism means the trucking industry is less welcome.

I'm afraid that's where you need to spend some money with neighborhood design experts like Frank Ricks, who solve these problems daily all over the city. I'm not sure this or any blog can solve those issues you present, but you do bring up an interesting topic for discussion.