Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Fostering a Culture of Solutions: An Introduction to the Urban Revitalization Symposium Issue

Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Fostering a Culture of Solutions: An Introduction to the Urban Revitalization Symposium Issue

Article excerpt

In opening this year's Law Review Symposium, I proclaimed that no city is better positioned than Memphis to host scholarly discussion on the many-layered topic of Urban Revitalization: The Legal Implications of Restoring a City. Memphis, of course, was among the cities hardest hit by the historic housing crisis that resulted from the subprime mortgage and predatory lending schemes of the 2000s.1 For a city that had suffered steady population decline2 and long ranked among the nation's leaders in bankruptcies,3 those practices exacerbated an already extreme situation, inflicting a new brand of devastation marked by unprecedented levels of home abandonment, severely diminished property values, and entire neighborhoods changed forever.4 Today, nearly ten years removed from the crisis' peak and amidst cautious talk of local and national economic recovery, an estimated 13,000 vacant housing units and 53,000 vacant lots linger as blighted properties threaten the stability of Memphis and its citizens.5

My proclamation did not find its roots in this problem of admittedly epidemic proportion; rather, it instead had everything to do with the creative and collaborative strategies Memphis is using to confront it.6 Guided by the collective vision and sheer will of many who participated in this Symposium, including several authors who have contributed to this volume, Memphis has become a model for the innovation and cooperation necessary to fight the scourge of blighted properties and to reenergize the communities in which they sit.7 And the Law Review's decision to devote its Symposium to the often controversial legal and policy issues connected to any community revitalization effort is just the latest example of the leading role that the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law ("the Law School") and its students have come to play in that important fight.

In January 2015, the Law School and the City of Memphis Law Division partnered to form the Neighborhood Preservation Clinic.8 In what is believed to be a first-of-its-kind construct, Clin- ic students represent the City of Memphis in lawsuits aimed at abating the public nuisance caused by abandoned properties.9 Clinic students investigate property ownership and conditions, communicate with and train Code Enforcement professionals, and prepare civil actions seeking enforceable orders of compliance with property maintenance and other local housing and building code standards. Just as importantly, to inform their casework, Clinic students learn-and teach10-about the history and causes of blighted properties and the pervasive impact those properties have on the children that walk by them on the way to school, the families that live next to them, and the neighborhoods that surround them.11 Over the course of just three semesters, 24 students news/govemment/city/demolition-of-executive-inn-kicks-off-anti-blight-lawclinic-ep-867136357-324499121.html; have participated in the Clinic, assisting in the filing of more than 100 new blight lawsuits for the City and helping to achieve positive community outcomes in hundreds more.

Yet the Neighborhood Preservation Clinic is just one of many ways in which the Law School has emerged as a centerpiece of Memphis' remarkable community revitalization movement. A week before the Symposium, the Law School's Public Action Law Society convened an Alternative Spring Break program in which more than 60 students from across the county (including many of our own) provided supervised legal assistance and participated in service project initiatives focused on a theme of "Building Community Hope Through Blight Reduction."13 And just a day before the Symposium, the Law School hosted a summit of community leaders at which its partner, Neighborhood Preservation Inc., unveiled the Memphis Neighborhood Blight Elimination Charter14 a comprehensive consensus document "intended to serve as both a playbook and a game plan for current and future blight abatement actions. …

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