OUR OPINION: Targeted action can work in neighborhoods

While the West Jackson Street neighborhood redevelopment project is still in the early stages, the value of a strategic, targeted approach to the problems contributing to neighborhood decline already has been demonstrated.

For several years, the apartment building at the corner of West Jackson and Clayton Avenue had been an incubator for unsavory activity that made life uneasy and, in some cases, potentially unsafe for residents nearby. City officials knew shutting it down was essential to the success of any effort to revitalize the neighborhood and make it attractive to middle-income homebuyers.

When the City Council approved the first round of funding for the purchase and redevelopment of West Jackson properties, the apartment building was the first target. The city bought it, found new homes for the tenants and then closed it, with a final decision still to come on whether to tear it down or renovate it for other purposes.

As the Daily Journal’s Robbie Ward reported in Sunday’s edition, there was an immediate change in the neighborhood environment. Criminal activity and general disruption declined significantly.

The crime on West Jackson and the nearby Chapman Street area haven’t been eliminated, but the targeted closure of the apartments was a good start that has made a big difference and set the stage for more improvements.

It will be a slow process that requires patience. Property negotiations likely will require the redevelopment to take place in stages, but it is imperative that city officials stick with the project as long as it takes to turn the neighborhood around.

There’s a lot riding on the West Jackson Street project. The neighborhood itself is important enough. It’s in the heart of town, borders the desirable middle-class Joyner neighborhood and is a main gateway to the city from the Tupelo Regional Airport.

But a successful reversal of the crime and blight in the area would jump-start a process that must spread to other neighborhoods in the city under similar stress.

Tupelo has plenty of attractive housing and neighborhoods for upper-income residents. It also has ample housing for low-income people. It comes up short on neighborhoods that are both affordable and attractive for young middle-class families, which are essential to the long-term health and viability of any city.

The West Jackson project will demonstrate whether the city has the capacity and the will to bring formerly attractive neighborhoods back into viability. The outcome of that ambitious goal will go a long way in determining the city’s health for years, even decades, to come.

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