New Face for an Old Broad 

Broad Avenue, through what is now the Broad Avenue Arts District, was once the main street of the bustling commercial center for the entire Binghampton neighborhood. In the 1950s, I-40 was scheduled to slice through the neighborhood one block off of Broad Avenue, and cut through Memphis' central greenspace, Overton Park. Citizens and Overton Park advocates organized to fight against this plan, taking the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, finally winning with a decision that saved the park in 1971 and established new rules for planning highways and roads in neighborhoods across the U.S. 

Unfortunately, the damage to Binghampton was already done – a swath of divided highway built to the perimeter of the park bisected the neighborhood, destroying neighborhood connectivity to the commercial district. For decades, the district struggled with crime and blight. In 2006, Broad began to slowly emerge as an arts district with a group of pioneers sharing a vision for arts and community. To truly thrive, however, the area needed more investment—both emotional and financial.

By 2010, BLDG Memphis Memphis and partners in Binghampton and greater Memphis had determined that the Hampline, an on-street trail connecting the nearby rail-to-trail Shelby Farms Greenline to Overton Park through the Broad Avenue Arts District was key to the area's transportation infrastructure.

To demonstrate to the community the potential in the Broad Avenue district and hopefully spur interest, BLDG Memphis moved to stoke the imagination of the community and prospective stakeholders. Adapting a concept from Dallas-area group, The Better Block, BLDG Memphis and a team of neighborhood leaders created a temporary exhibit of what a new arts district could look like. We approached A New Face for an Old Broad as an ideal trial and educational tool for community members, entrepreneurs and engineers alike. 

How it Came Together

First, we teamed up with the Broad Avenue Arts Alliance, members of which enthusiastically supported the idea. Together we:

  • Planned and measured the roadway and asked some talented volunteers to make some drawings; 

  • Brought every community stakeholder to the table to share ideas;

  • Convinced property owners to let us inside to do a quick clean in all those vacant properties;

  • Asked existing businesses to open their storefronts;

  • Put a call out for donations of paint, rollers, artists, skilled craftsmen, brooms, and shovels;

  • Invited three neighborhood schools to adopt a crosswalk that their students would design and paint. 

The Event

In the week leading up to the November 19-20, 2010 event, we worked with volunteers and area business owners to open up storefronts and move in pop-up shops and restaurants. Most importantly though, we recreated the public space on the street to illustrate how better infrastructure can breath life into a commercial district. Focused on bicyclists and pedestrians instead of cars, we: 

  • Painted pedestrian bump-outs to make it safer to cross the streets;

  • Moved parking spots and added protected bikes lanes to narrow the street and slow traffic while buffering cyclists and pedestrians from traffic with parked cars;

  • Zebra-striped crosswalks and added pedestrian-crossing street signs;

  • Added streetlights, benches, bike racks and trees in planters.

For a few thousand dollars in paint and rollers and a lot of donated time, energy and supplies from people who shared the vision, Broad Avenue was transformed. 15,000 people visited Broad Avenue that weekend and had a great time exploring the new Broad. 

The Outcomes

The “temporary” streetscape has stayed and is awaiting a more complete and permanent version with construction of the Hampline

Noticing the success of the event, the City of Memphis joined us as a partner in the area bringing entrepreneurial support to the district through its MEMShop program. Through the Mayor's Innovation Delivery Team (now Innovate Memphis), a new program – MEMFix – was begun as a City co-sponsored version of the New Face on an Old Broad event. MEMFix has since become a regular and popular event in neighborhoods across Memphis.

Most significantly for the area, the New Face for an Old Broad event has inspired more than $25 million in investments in the Broad Ave Arts District and Binghampton Neighborhood: 

  • New businesses have moved in permanently and existing businesses have grown.

  • Buildings have been renovated, sold and rented.

  • Murals and sculptures have been added.

  • Binghampton Development Corporation is moving forward with a new grocery and retail project at Sam Cooper and Tillman.

Interested in how programs like MEMFix can work in your neighborhood? Contact us at to find out how to make your vision for the community a reality. 

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