Meet the man trying to make blight disappear in Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Mayor Jim Strickland's administration has attempted to address blight by appointing a "special assistant to the mayor for neighborhood concerns" to travel throughout the city, meet with neighbors and respond to requests.

The problem permeates all around Memphis, manifesting itself in dumping, boarded-up buildings and decay.

Special assistant Steve Shular takes on the task of taking a staggering number of calls about blight every day.

“What we’re attempting to do is make sure you all know you’ve got a straight line in to the mayor’s office,” Shular said.

When Shular shows up in a neighborhood, he attracts a lot of attention. He has his a car with the city seal and walks around with his notepad out; people want to know more.

Wednesday, he was in South Memphis investigating massive dumping on Niese Street off South Parkway.

“It’s really bad because they throw a lot of tires, things the garbage people won’t pick up,” said Mack Trent, who's been in this neighborhood his entire life.

Shular got to work denoting the trash and making calls about abandoned cars. He typically spends his days doing visits like these, following up on environmental court cases and attending neighborhood meetings.

Trent had doubts about Shular's impact.

"We been through this before," Trent said. "Everyone said they're gonna do this, gonna do that. We’ll have to see.”

Shular admitted his job is a big uphill battle: He gets the toughest of the roughly 1,000 calls a day that go to 311.

"There’s probably never going to be a day we can say we got it all done," Shular said. "What we can do is take those problems one at a time that have people most upset and try to get them resolved.”

Still, he remains optimistic, one handshake at a time.

If you want help, Shular recommends you first register a complaint with 311. You do that by dialing 311 or through the 311 app.

If you don’t hear anything, that’s when you should contact the mayor’s office.


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