Spurred by the success of Broad Avenue and the Shelby Farms Greenline, good things are happening in the Memphis neighborhood Binghampton.
At Carpenter Art Garden, an after-school program in Binghampton
photography by Justin Fox Burks
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It’s 4 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon in the fall, and about 40 elementary-age kids are working on art projects — some are painting pumpkins, others are adding mosaic tiles to a horse sculpture — in a once-blighted lot on Carpenter Street in Binghampton.
The lot that was once overgrown with weeds is now lined with colorful murals and dotted with planters made from discarded car tires painted all the shades of the rainbow. There’s a small stage for performers and picnic tables, where the kids are sitting.
Welcome to the Carpenter Art Garden, a volunteer-run, after-school program that provides children of Binghampton with a creative outlet. They meet here weekly in the lot next door to a boarded-up purple house that’s spray-painted with the words “Property of the Memphis Police Organized Crime Unit.” It’s the perfect juxtaposition of what Binghampton was and what it’s becoming.
For years, Binghampton, bordered by Poplar, East Parkway, Summer, and Holmes, has suffered from blight, crime, poverty, and a perception problem. But thanks in part to the success of the neighborhood’s Broad Avenue Arts District, plans for the Hampline (a two-way bicycle lane through the neighborhood connecting with the Shelby Farms Greenline’s entrance on Tillman), and the work of the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team and Community L.I.F.T. (a neighborhood revitalization program that connects projects with funding sources), the area has been getting more positive attention from outsiders.
Meanwhile, groups within the neighborhood — the Binghampton Development Corporation (BDC), the Lester Community Center, Caritas Village, the Refugee Empowerment Program, etc. — have been working hard for years to clean up the blight, provide positive outlets for the residents, and take back the neighborhood without gentrifying or sacrificing its character.
Crime has gone down slightly, with 581 part-one crimes (assaults, burglaries, robberies, rapes, and the like) last year, versus 746 in 2002. And the blight is a little harder to find these days; the BDC has renovated 78 housing units in the past 10 years.
But if you ask Walter Casey, who has directed the Lester Community Center on Tillman for 33 years and grew up in the neighborhood, the biggest change isn’t something that can be measured in statistics.
“The biggest change I’ve seen is the attitude of the people. They come into the center now, and they’re really positive. They want more educational classes and family-oriented classes,” Casey says. “And I’ve seen the change when strangers are in the neighborhood, riding their bikes or walking or running. At one time, there was fear in their hearts. Now there’s no fear.”