Cooper-Young: Memphis, Tennessee


Eclectic, free-wheeling, and bohemian is how some residents describe their Midtown community, which got its start in 1890 as a working-class neighborhood and today finds itself one of Memphis's most popular areas that is both keeping long-time residents and attracting new ones wanting a close-in urban address. Built out by the 1930s, Cooper-Young remained stable until the end of World War II when an exodus began to the eastern suburbs, leaving blocks of historic buildings bought on the cheap by out-of-town investors who rented the properties but made few repairs, furthering the neighborhood's decline.

Designated Area

The designated area is bound by Central Avenue to the north; East Parkway South to the east; Southern Avenue to the south; and McLean Blvd. to the west.

As businesses started fleeing downtown for the malls, Cooper-Young's commercial corridor had high vacancy rates, but the neighborhood's historic architecture, affordable housing, and close proximity to downtown started attracting tenants and residents, turning it into one of the most popular areas in Memphis. Photo courtesy Josh Whitehead.

Planning Excellence

The picture did not begin to change until 1975 when residents who had stayed founded the Cooper-Young Community Association, which began to renovate the historic homes and attracted new residents including artists and musicians. The association also advocated for ordinances to prevent absentee owners of houses in the neighborhood from continuing to rent their properties, which had become a major source of blight.

Largely funded by local businesses and residents and decades in the making, Cooper-Young's resurgence has been impressive. One of the most eye-catching changes is the gateway Cooper-Young trestle, a 150-feet-long steel sculpture on an abandoned railroad bridge that depicts a scene from the neighborhood. Other changes include the adoption in 2000 of design review guidelines that ensure new development does not compromise or detract from the neighborhood's historical character and integrity.

Besides having turned the corner in terms of the number of restored historic properties outweighing the number still in need of such repairs, the neighborhood's commercial area is now a thriving entertainment district that draws residents from across the city wanting to spend an evening out on the town.

One of the most popular landmarks in Cooper-Young is the old railroad trestle, the site of a 150-foot-long steel sculpture that depicts a scene from the neighborhood. Photo courtesy Josh Whitehead.

Defining Characteristics, Features

History and Architecture

  • Neighborhood dates to 1890 when Mount Arlington Subdivision founded in Midtown Memphis as city's first working class neighborhood
  • During 1960s residents start moving to eastern suburbs; by 1970s only a few businesses remain along Cooper-Young's commercial corridor
  • Historic architecture and affordable housing prices attracts artists, musicians, others to Cooper-Young during 1980s; by 1989 businesses begin returning
  • Victorian and Craftsman-style architecture, built between 1900-1915, dominate; neighborhood added to National Register of Historic Places (1989)
  • Captain Harris House added to National Register of Historic Places 1979; Peabody Elementary School added to register 1982

Physical Attributes, Amenities

  • Located in the Midtown area of Memphis, Cooper-Young is a historic district with a booming art scene and newly developed downtown area
  • Neighborhood's gateway wins 1999 citywide Urban Art Vision Award
  • Neighborhood earns "Very Walkable" rating from WalkScore (88 of 100 points); average score for Tennessee's largest cities is 30
  • Annual Cooper Young Festival in fall is city's single largest event; weekly Farmers Market held during summer months
  • Neighborhood adjacent to Glenview and Peabody Parks; Peabody offers playground, walking path, gazebo, Raymond Skinner Center for disabled adults

A row of shotgun homes. New development and rehabilitation efforts are subject to design guidelines, adopted in 2000, which ensure that the historical character of the neighborhood prevails. Photo courtesy Josh Whitehead.

Planning and Community Involvement

  • Pedestrian plaza, other improvements at intersection of Cooper and Young streets in 1989 help spur commercial development, nearby residential property renovations
  • Cooper-Young Community Association founded 1975 to reverse neighborhood decline; strong neighborhood advocate, publishes community newspaper; uses 1991 grant for safety, tree planting, new street lights
  • Cooper-Young Community Association initiates Midtown Demonstration Project, 1979, to offset trend of historic properties being rented and not maintained
  • Forty-nine residential properties and two commercial properties rebuilt by Cooper-Young Development Corporation, reflecting neighborhood commitment
  • Cooper-Young Development Corporation develops partnerships with adjacent Rozelle-Annesdale neighborhood, helps draft neighborhood plan and builds new houses that are compatible with area's historic architecture