The South's Best Comeback Neighborhoods
The great fire of 1901, which destroyed most of downtown Jacksonville, spared the Springfield neighborhood. However, what fire didn’t do, poor zoning and suburban flight almost accomplished in this historic area north of downtown. But today you can see potential. Prairie-style and gingerbread Queen Anne homes, some lovingly restored and others waiting their chance, share the streets with trees draped in Spanish moss.
Children from the Springfield Mommies Group hurry to Klutho Park at the southern edge of the neighborhood.
Families, empty nesters, executives, and creative hipsters come looking to plug in to the energy of the community. “New homes that blend seamlessly with historic ones are bringing in buyers who lack renovation skills,” says Mack Bissette, CEO of SRG Homes & Neighborhoods. “We’ve had passionate renovators here in the past, but this latest wave is lining up with a new generation of buyers.”
"Not long ago most people couldn’t find North Chattanooga,” says Mike Thompson, who grew up in the neighborhood. “They ignored this side of the river and this neighborhood was falling apart.” The first surge of renovations in North Chattanooga coincided with the transformation of the downtown riverfront from an industrial port into a destination. In 1993, the reopening of the Walnut Street Bridge as a walkway to the NorthShore provided the catalyst for even more people to rediscover the neighborhood.
Coolidge Park’s fountain, carousel, and greenspaces on the Tennessee River are active destinations.
In the nineties, as Dilworth became more expensive, people looking for affordable places began to reclaim neglected houses and shuttered warehouses in Wilmore and the South End. “I got in a 1931 bungalow for $50,000,” says 12-year resident Kirk Callahan.“It was fun watching brake lights as people slowed to watch me work.” When Charlotte added train service to the area in 2007, the neighborhood turnaround found new energy. “For these up-and-coming areas, the new rail service has been like throwing kerosene on a fire,” says local real estate broker Terry McDonald.
Crescent Hill residents love to talk about their neighborhood near downtown Louisville. They’ll tell you about the well-kept cottages, beautiful churches, and involved citizens who saved the local library and improved Kennedy Park. They’ll also talk about the turnaround of the Frankfort Avenue business corridor. “Fifteen years ago you didn’t have to look for cars before crossing Frankfort,” says councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh. “Now it’s the heart of Crescent Hill.” Neighbors walk to locally owned restaurants and shops, which they happily share with visitors. “We’re at the right place and time for this swing toward a love of great neighborhoods,” says Don Burch, owner of Quest Outdoors.
Blue Dog Bakery & Café owners and Crescent Hill residents Bob Hancock and Kit Garrett built their Frankfort Avenue business with hard work and fresh bread.
“In the nineties, you didn’t stop your car near Patterson Park because of the drug dealers and prostitutes,” says Michael Harmel, who owns Three, a restaurant across the street from the park. Many of the brick and stone row houses bordering the park were boarded up, burned out, or rented on the cheap. Beginning in the late nineties, grassroots efforts began to turn the park and the adjacent neighborhood from an eyesore into an oasis.
Future restoration of the community rests on the struggle between the housing downturn and energized homeowners rallying behind the community. “You’ve heard of sweat equity? We have fret equity,” says neighborhood association vice president Kimi Aghevli. “You move in and think, ‘What have I done?’ Then your neighbors reach out and bring you into the social circle, lifting this neighborhood house by house.”
The Old Home Supply House (pictured) is a perfect fit for Fairmount. It has a little of the old, a little of the new, and a whole lot of character.
“A lot of families come to look at the old homes, but it’s the closeness of the neighbors that sells them,” says neighborhood association president Robert Wedding. “Families move here for the sense of place and belonging,” adds Fran McCarthy, who relocated to Fairmount seven years ago. “Who knew suburban flight would be a round trip?”
“We called this the student ghetto,” says Andy Faucett, co-owner of Bambino’s, a cafe in Phelps Grove near Missouri State University. Couches on rooftops, weekend parties, and student rental houses made the area near the university seem more frat house than family-friendly. Those in the community for the long haul fought against blight―not with conflict, but with a neighborhood plan that lifted the pride of student renters and homeowners alike. “Everyone is beginning to take responsibility for the neighborhood,” says homeowner and neighborhood association president Terry Rowland. “It’s about quality of life. After 27 years, we’re back to knowing it’s all about the people and the porches.”
Parker Street was at a low point in downtown Greenville. “Heavy rains would flood through the shacks at the bottom of the street,” says lifelong resident Shawn Coleman. Crime also filled the area. But a little over a decade ago, the Viola neighborhood was reborn, thanks to the efforts of the city, First Baptist Greenville, the Urban League of the Upstate, various community partners, and the residents themselves. Tidy homes with front porches replaced clapboard homes in decay. Better drainage and new streets, sidewalks, parks, and attitudes transformed the neighborhood.
Urban areas on the rebound are just for urban pioneers, right? Don’t tell that to people moving into East Nashville. “We have fewer pioneers and more families moving permanently into the area,” says Josh Ellis, who lives in a remodeled 1905 Victorian with his wife, Stefanie, and their newborn son. After 10-plus years of a slow and steady rise, the neighborhood has managed to keep its eclectic, artsy vibe while welcoming a diverse mix of newcomers. “Of all the great things happening here, when I see young moms pushing strollers down the sidewalks, I know this place is back,” says local shop owner Debbie Goodwyn.
Kate and Mike Loyco (center) admire the newborn son of neighbors Josh and Stefanie Ellis.
Natural disasters bring out the best and worst in people and the places where they live. The destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina on Holy Cross laid bare countless civic and social problems. More than four years after the flooding, the restoration of Holy Cross is also uncovering the resilience of people determined to save their neighborhood. Volunteers from the neighborhood and beyond, the Preservation Resource Center, and countless other organizations are saving Holy Cross by rebuilding the historic homes and allowing residents to return to this sliver of high ground within the Lower Ninth Ward. “People are pouring their hearts into Holy Cross for a love of this place and their neighbors,” says resident Pam Dashiell. “And we’re not rebuilding blindly. The Ninth Ward has become an epicenter of preservation and sustainability.”