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    Miller Strengthens Neighborhoods in Medical District

    Micaela Watts

    Though you may not have noticed, one of Memphis’ districts is being thoughtfully enhanced, one project at a time.

    It’s called the Medical District, and it comprises 2 1/2 square miles surrounding nine anchor institutions: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, Methodist Healthcare, Regional One Health, Memphis Bioworks, Southwest Tennessee Community College, Baptist College of Health Sciences and the Southern College of Optometry.

    As director of data and programs for the Memphis Medical District Collaborative, Abby Miller is tasked with coordinating various projects as part of a comprehensive anchor strategy that will breathe life into the spaces – parks, roadways, commercial corridors – between Memphis’ health and research heavyweights.

    “For me, getting people to love the space they’re in is the ultimate goal,” says Miller. “I feel very privileged that I get to wake up in the morning and concentrate on 2 1/2 square miles of Memphis, all of the things we can create there.”

    Originally from New York, Miller has been a Memphian for five years. Before choosing the Bluff City, she lived in Port-Au-Prince, where she worked with Habitat for Humanity International to help rebuild Haiti after its catastrophic 2010 earthquake. A job with the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team (today’s Innovate Memphis) lured her to the Mid-South.

    “There’s been a big shift in Memphis, even since I got here,” says Miller. “Today it feels like civic engagement is so much richer. People believe in their city as a place worthy of creative effort.”

    This month marks Miller’s one-year anniversary with MMDC, where she has already led projects involving stakeholders as diverse as retail shops to large universities. A prime example can be found just across the way from the MMDC’s sun-drenched workspace on Madison.

    Edge Triangle – a delta of green space at the junction of Madison, Monroe and South Orleans – enjoyed a recent facelift thanks to MMDC. They recruited graduate students in art, architecture and urban planning from the University of Memphis and the Memphis College of Art.

    Their challenge was to design a cost-efficient “placemaking” installation in a park that had previously hosted some less-than-savory activities. (Creative placemaking is an urban planning technique that uses art installations and cultural activities to promote positive community change.) The results yielded permanent and semi-permanent art installations, accessible walkways and an-off leash dog area.

    “The students told us, ‘This changed the way we do art. It made us think about placemaking as art,’” said Miller. “And that’s a big win, because we now have people besides urban planners who are bringing an artistic and creative energy to enhancing public spaces.”

    Another MMDC program, one that Miller is particularly proud of, are the Detroit-inspired slow rides through the Medical District. Freewheel is an easy-paced group ride that winds through the Medical District, Midtown and Downtown on Wednesday nights. The group might hang out in Victorian Village for a history lesson or wind up at High Cotton Brewing Co. for a mid-ride pint. Currently on a winter hiatus, rides will resume in late April.

    “Sometimes you just need to create the platform, and then it becomes its own thing,” Miller explains. “I love creating these opportunities for people.”

    With one year under her belt and multiple projects launched, Miller hopes to build additional collaborations to foster love between those who live and work in the Medical District and the space itself. Key to those partnerships has been community buy-in; it’s one of the reasons Miller considers herself so lucky.

    “That’s the juice, right? Great cities foster great communities,” she says. “And great communities, in turn, give back to the city. That’s what gets me so excited: the possibility of facilitating that process on any given day.”

    Abby Miller is a New Memphis Fellow driving our city forward. Learn more at newmemphis.org.