Neighborhood Economic Vitality

Launched in October 2012, the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team (now Innovate Memphis) began developing a series of initiatives around the idea neighborhoods could be revitalized by a simple formula:  “clean it, activate it, sustain it”.  The Team began its work:
  • Eliminating physical barriers to investment;
  • Deploying small-scale and temporary changes that could inject energy and demonstrate the art of the possible; and
  • Making successful changes permanent through public policy.

By choosing three neighborhoods—South Memphis, Binghampton, and Crosstown—the Team could “test drive” various approaches to neighborhood vitality.  Our economic vitality work shows the City of Memphis how moderate investments applied in very focused ways can generate huge return on investment for our neighborhoods.

Innovation Team Initiatives:

Blight Strategy

There are more than 53,000 vacant properties in the City of Memphis. Many of these vacant properties hurt neighborhoods by reducing property values and creating the potential for crime. MIDT assisted the Division of Public Works, and the Urban Art Commission to complement the city’s 25 Square blight mitigation program with a resident-led effort to transform neighborhood blight. In three test neighborhoods, residents co-designed and helped install 11 murals and developed creative and artistic approaches to securing abandoned properties in South Memphis.

While, addressing the visual impact of blight, MIDT continues to work closely with the city to develop a comprehensive blight strategy that maps the city’s current approach to blight, specifically code enforcement, and will identify strategies that lead to a more comprehensive and efficient approach to preventing residential and commercial property from becoming blighted.

Understanding that cities collect a lot of data that can be used to fight blight, MIDT partnered with the city, Center for Partnerships in GIS at the University of Memphis, and the University of Chicago sponsored Data Science for the Social Good to prototype several tools that use data the city collects to identify properties that are at risk of becoming blighted and to model the costs and benefits associated with blight and mitigation tools such as renovation or demolition.


Tax increment financing (TIF) can be a powerful financial incentive for rebuilding neighborhoods. The City of Memphis used TIF through the Community redevelopment Agency (CRA) to revitalize the Uptown Neighborhood but has not leveraged the use of TIF to the extent of other Tennessee cities. MIDT worked with the Division of Planning and Development, EDGE, and other stakeholders to examine TIF as a tool, compare TIF and PILOT, evaluate how the city has used TIF through the CRA, and provide recommendations for how TIF could be used more comprehensively for small scale redevelopment efforts.

Economic Gardening

The backbone of many economic development programs in cities across the country is a strategy often referred to as “Economic Hunting”. This is the competitive recruitment of companies to a city through tax incentives, job training programs or infrastructure investments or upgrades. An emerging complementary strategy is “Economic Gardening”. Economic Gardening differs from Economic Hunting in that it focuses on growing those small and medium sized businesses that are already located in the city by providing strategic consulting and building capacity for growth.

MIDT has partnered with EDGE to develop an Economic Gardening trial program for 47 stage two companies (companies between $1 million and $10 million in revenue or 10 – 100 employees) in Memphis and Shelby County. Each company entering the Economic Gardening program receives up to 40 hours of targeted consulting services to help them develop a strategic growth plan and connect them with available resources.

More companies are expected as Economic Gardening becomes part of an ever expanding toolkit of economic development strategies offered by EDGE.


One of the first steps a neighborhood can take to jump-start revitalization is to quickly demonstrate the potential of their commercial district. MEMFix is a tool that helps neighborhoods do just that – prototype residents ideas, test retail markets, wake up tired commercial areas. As Todd Richardson of Crosstown Arts says “MEMFix puts the neighborhood back on the mental map of Memphians.”

Modeled on successful resident-led effort A New Face for an Old Broad, MEMFix provides a way for local government to support and learn from residents and stakeholders wanting to lead a positive change in their neighborhoods.

MIDT partnered with Livable Memphis and the city to develop, test, and launch the program. To date the program has:

  • Helped demonstrate the art of the possible in four neighborhoods;
  • Prototyped eight bicycle and pedestrian innovations;
  • Activated 16 vacant storefronts seven of which now have tenants;
  • Collaborated with seven divisions of local government; and
  • Reintroduced Memphis neighborhoods to more than 17,000 people.

To learn more about MEMFix please visit the MEMFix website at or contact Livable Memphis at


A desire to explore new business models in retail and the rampant success of food trucks in Memphis led MIDT to work with alt.Consulting and the city to develop a program designed to introduce mobile retail to the Memphis market. Part education, part incubation, part development, MEMMobile launched five new mobile retail businesses through a forgivable loan program.

In addition, MEMMobile looked at city policies that effected mobile retailers, including food trucks, and introduced a new license for trucks operating in city parks. MEMMobile engaged more than 40 entrepreneurs by brining fashion truck retailer, Abigail Franklin, to Memphis in order to arm local entrepreneurs with the knowledge they need to develop a mobile business model.

To learn more about MEMMobile and the retail trucks please click here.


Born from the idea that retail plays a vital role in revitalizing neighborhoods, MEMShop is a retail incubator that activates vacant storefronts, helps build local businesses and increases a community’s visibility and vibrancy. MIDT developed the MEMShop model working with alt.Consulting, neighborhood leaders, national experts, and local officials. Local entrepreneurs selected for the MEMShop program are provided with subsidized rents, extensive technical assistance, marketing assistance, and tenant improvement dollars. The program helps to reduce the barriers of entry and enable business owners to learn and adjust while doing.

More than 75 entrepreneurs have applied to be part of the program. Thus far MEMShop has helped to launch nine new businesses, six of which have gone on to sign long-term leases. MEMShop has primarily focused along the Broad Ave. where the vacancy rate has dropped from 46 percent to 5 percent since the program started.

To learn more about MEMShop please visit the MEMShop website at

Neighborhood Retail Strategy

Most local governments take a laissez faire approach to retail, leaving retail mix, supply and demand, and quality of retail options to the market. MIDT wanted to explore what would happen if the city took a more active role in understanding a neighborhood’s retail needs and working with local retailers to provide resources for them to enhance the quality of the experience for the residents.

Working with the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce, MIDT prepared a series of market studies looking at retail and grocery demand in South Memphis and additionally looking at the feasibility of a public market in Memphis. MIDT also worked with local retailers in South Memphis to bring retailing best practices to them highlighting ways to improve sales and better respond to retail needs of residents. MIDT also assisted Community LIFT and EDGE to develop a forgivable loan program for neighborhood retailers that provides small, forgivable loans for improvements to facades and interiors of their stores.


  • South Memphis Retail Study
  • South Memphis Grocery Study
  • Public Market Study
  • Shopfront Improvement Study
 Tactical Urbanism

Some re-vitalization efforts require something a little extra. They may need a way to demonstrate a vision, test an idea, mobilize resources within your community, or uncover the hidden value of a building or vacant lot. Tactical Urbanism has been defined as a city, organizational, and/or citizen-led approach to neighborhood building using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions intended to catalyze long-term change.

While MEMFix and MEMShop are both examples of Tactical Urbanism, MIDT has also worked with partners on other projects that demonstrated this innovative way of thinking about revitalization efforts. The TN Brewery Untapped, MEMFix, IOBY, and the Memphis Grizzlies RiverFit project all provide excellent examples of Tactical Urbanism in Memphis. MIDT’s focus has been identifying ways that local government can both use Tactical Urbanism as a tool but also support resident and community led efforts to change and improve neighborhoods.