First days are always filled with trepidation. But they also signal the start of something new. For Catherine Moore Lee, today is a first day and a new chapter filled with excitement — as housing director for Midtown Partners.
Born in Birmingham but a Jacksonian for most of her life, the 30 year-old Fondrenite comes to Midtown from the City of Jackson’s Mayor’s office. Lee served under Harvey Johnson as special projects officer. With a background in urban planning and a masters degree from Jackson State University, her tenure there was heavily invested in projects of a green or healthy nature. She counts her work on community gardens, Jackson Streets Alive and the city’s master plan as some of her proudest moments.
Those experiences will cross pollinate the Midtown directive. Lee hopes her relationships with her now former city colleagues and city leaders will help cut through the red tape of executing projects like a city wide coalition for a complete streets program. With the help of Bike Walk Mississippi’s Melody Moody, Lee believes city planners and governmental leaders will appreciate the need to design roadways with all users in mind – bicyclists, public transportation vehicles and riders, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.
Lee says she is passionate about continuing the work begun by her predecessor, Mary Elizabeth Evans, now with Hope Enterprises. “She was very successful at writing grant applications and pulled in a good amount of resources for housing and business development in Midtown,” Lee says. Those resources will be helpful in bringing new residents and businesses into the neighborhood with several projects already underway. “With questions they’ll have about infrastructure and zoning, my experience in planning lets me step in and ease the anxiety.”
With a lot of overlap between residential and overall community development, Lee will work alongside Midtown’s Creative Economies Director, Whitney Grant, on planning for renovations of Brown Park. Amenities will include splash pads, basketball courts and play spaces for children. “I get to jump in and help see projects come to fruition,” she says. Lee also notes that Skate Mississippi is working to raise funds to build their long anticipated skate park there.
What makes her job so much easier is the people who already call Midtown home. She explains: “Residents and businesses here have positioned themselves for growth and development. They’re so engaged and have organized their ideas on paper for the last ten to fifteen years and they’re finally seeing results. It’s amazing to watch”
Recently, Midtown hosted a workshop from the Mississippi Urban Forest Council on planting fruit tress. “We heavily recruited professionals and we had a few who said they would show up,” Lee says. “But when we got to the workshop, a couple of dozen residents were there and they wanted to learn about the benefits of the trees. It’s that drive that makes Midtown a great place to live and puts them on a path to being a great community.”
A resident of Fondren’s Broadmeadow neighborhood since January 2012, Lee says community is in her blood. Her mother, who has spent her career in U.S. Housing and Urban Development and her father, a political science professor, would take a young Catherine to neighborhood meetings and homeless awareness rallies. “(What I do) is really a tribute to both of them,” she explains. “They instilled in me and my brother the values of treating all people equally and everyone having access to same good characteristics in places where they live and work. It’s nice to see I make them proud.”
In Lee’s spare time, she and husband Garrad, a history professor, music promoter and record label owner, love to cook and check out the local music.“I’ve always enjoyed music,” she says.“When we started dating, we traveled to go see shows. It’s been a big part of our eight year marriage.” She’s also active with Jackson Bike Advocates, running and yoga.