Monday, August 28, 2006

No Suburbanism

Detail from UT Medical Center Building
Last Sunday's Commercial Appeal reported on the efforts by Medical Center stakeholders who are
...pursuing a medical center zoning overlay that promotes pedestrian-friendly development, restricts planned developments, encourages more mixed-use projects and supports the $1.1 billion in private investment planned or under way in the area.


According to the zoning overlay, new buildings would need to be built closer to the street. It requires 60 percent to 80 percent of a building to be within 15 feet of the right-of-way, which is typically the back end of a sidewalk. Planners say that would eliminate huge surface parking lots, encourage walkability and preserve the area's urban character.
There appears to be opposition from some developers to this plan:

During a Land Use Control Board meeting two weeks ago, Loeb Properties asked that approval of the overlay be delayed for 30 days.

"As written, I have some serious concerns," said Frank M. Dyer III, senior vice president of brokerage and tenant representation at Loeb. "I think bringing the building up close to the street could be very difficult on certain tracts of land because most retailers of the modern age don't choose to develop their sites that way because that is what their customers demand."

The overlay also mandates that in certain areas 60 percent of a lot's width must have a building on it.

"It starts to dictate the footprint of your building," Dyer said.

That's the idea, supporters of the zoning overlay say.
Exactly the idea. Memphis has slept this suburban nightmare for 60 years. We've pushed our borders to the edges of the earth to swallow every suburban community that we could get our hands on. We remade our major boulevards into freeways. We've damaged and in some cases destroyed our urban texture with surface parking lots and buildings recessed from the street. For what? We've never been able to attract the suburbanites -- they've only moved further out. And we've made it uglier for those who prefer the city.

Once and for all, we should wake up! Let's stop building the city for people who don't live here, and don't want to be here. We should build it for us, who we are and who we want to be.

Memphis cannot retain or attract or inspire the people who will walk with it into its third century by acquiescing to lazy, ugly suburbanality.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Public Relationships

The redevelopers of the Tennessee Brewery need a special height exemption for the project. They want to build a 14-story tower on the site, but zoning prevents projects larger than 9 stories. To help make their case, they've hired the Carter Malone Group PR firm. One of the principals at the PR agency is Deidre Malone, who is also on the Shelby County Commission. In the Daily News article, Malone states
"I think they want to keep as much of the look and feel of the building as they can," said Malone, whose office is across the street from the brewery. "We're still going through the process of taking every constituent seriously, wanting everyone to feel as comfortable as they can feel about the project."
Until I read her comments, I had assumed that the project would build the tower next to the historic structure. Now it sounds like they want to build on top of the Brewery. Also, "we're still going through the process of taking every constituent seriously" almost sounds Dilbertian in its corporatish cluelessness. I'm more worried now about this development than before I read Commissioner Malone's statements.

The best public relations would be to unveil the plans and drawings for the project so the constituents can judge the tower's impact on their neighborhood and the Tennessee Brewery. A good design of the tower and preservation of the Brewery would do wonders for the project's PR. Do these plans and drawings exist?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Saved our Shell?

The Raoul Wallenberg Shell, Overton Park, Memphis, TennesseeThis is extremely good news. The City of Memphis is moving forward on a lease/management agreement between the Parks Division and the Friends of the Levitt Pavilion, Memphis that will renovate the Overton Park Shell (aka the Raoul Wallenberg Shell in Overton Park). The agreement is moving through the City Council. During the City Council's July 11th meeting [PDF alert]:
RESOLUTION requests City Council approval for an agreement to be negotiated between the City of Memphis, Tennessee, through its Division of Park Services and the Friends of the Levitt Pavilion Memphis, Inc., a Tennessee 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation, for the management and renovation of the Raoul Wallenburg Shell in Overton Park. The initial term of the Agreement is to be twenty five (25) years. The effective date of the Agreement is to be July 1, 2006. The cost to renovate is estimated at $1,000,000.00. The City of Memphis is to allocate $500,000.00 from G.O. Bonds as part of the CIP Budget. Friends will fund all renovation cost exceeding $500,000.00. Friends will fund operating, administration and programming costs throughout the life of the Agreement
Then this past Tuesday [PDF alert], the Council's Park Committee acted:
Resolution approving the Management and Renovation Agreement between the City of Memphis through the Division of Parks Services and the Friends fo the Levitt Pavilion Memphis, Inc., a Tennessee 501 © (3) non-profit corporation for the management and renovation of the Raoul Wallenburg Shell in Overton Park.
A friend had heard about this on WKNO, but I couldn't find any other details 'cept the documents above, which are the most important details other than the Council's final approval. I found the 501c3 information for Friends of the Levitt Pavilion, Memphis (no link), which lists Mimi Phillips of 80 Monroe as their agent, but couldn't find anything else. Friends of the Levitt Pavilion organizations operate open air public arenas in California and Connecticut, among other places.

Soon I hope to move the Shell from my threatened list to my preserved list.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Memphis-made Vodcasts

You should check out 2 local vodcasts: The Perry Files on Memphis Mojo, and See, Sip, Taste, Hear. The first stars the inimitable David Perry, who does monologues on digital media disruptions; it has about 7 episodes so far. SSTH have just posted first podcast, on DIY coffee roasting with a popcorn popper. Vary entertaining, both.

Also, Justin, who has created the Memphis OPML list and its elegant icon, has been thinking about doing art reviews via audio podcast (here's his most recent art review textcast). I think he should skip right over the audio and go straight to the vodcast. V for Visual. Vodcast! Vodcast! Vodcast!The Perry File's David Perry

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Obstacles to a Creative City: Zero-Sum Dementia

Klean Up!Before I begin let me write that what I describe here may not really exist. This post may be a delusion about a delusion. I could be extrapolating from my own defective psychology to the city as a whole. Yet I still think the delusion exists.

The obstacle I want to write about here is zero-sum game mass dementia -- the social belief that there's only so much to go around and therefore, my loss is your gain, and vice versa. The zero-sum principle is valid only in a closed, static economy. But doesn't "closed, static economy" describe Memphis? No, it never has. But by believing in the zero-sum game, we're always in danger of creating a stagnant environment where the belief gains even more traction.

In fact:
  • the greatest achievements of any Memphian do not make the works of other Memphians less valuable. Nor on the other hand, do our fellow citizens' failings make any of our work better. It's hard not to feel envy when a peer is recognized, fairly or unfairly, for their work. Nor is it hard to feel smug when a peer suffers a setback. But none of that matters to our own work. Our work is good or bad or somewhere in between no matter what our peers are or are not achieving. Worrying about others takes us away from our own work and its improvement.
  • the tiniest sliver of creativity, by the slightest of Memphian, voluntarily creating something for their own or others' enjoyment, no matter how bad, good or brilliant the work, expands the possibilities for all of us. Denigrating a bad creative effort as unworthy of existence is destructive for everyone, and a prop to the dementia. I would argue that a city full of bad playwrights is to be cherished and valued more than a city that has one brilliant playwright and no others, good or bad.
  • We should change, ignore, or go around, institutions that promote the dementia. Blogs, RSS, wikis, and other social technologies give us this power if we want it. They help us change changeable institutions through debate and transparency. And they make it easier than ever before to create more perfect unions, leaving the terminally corrupt institutions behind.
  • We should work to cure the dementia in ourselves. We could work to cure it in others, but I think removing it from ourselves is hard enough.
If we create, there won't be a sum, only more.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Journalism and Advertising in Tennessee

Used with permission of The University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.I made it to my first Bloggers Bash at the Young Avenue Deli. I met quite a few bloggers whose work I've been reading for some time, so for me it was like meeting television personalities -- maybe even the same exact thing. I enjoyed it.

One of the bloggers, autoegocrat of The Flypaper Theory, told me about a Mark Twain story called "Journalism in Tennessee" (thank you Project Gutenberg!) I'd never heard of the story before tonight, but it's very funny, combining the good humor and social violence that makes Twain such a sneakily subversive figure.

Which reminds me how Memphis in the early 1980's used Mark Twain as the advertising mascot of Mud Island. Then in all its banal glory, Memphis fancied itself a ye-olde Tom Sawyer kind of town. In fact it was more like (and always had been) the Grangerford/Shepherdson feud in Huckleberry Finn:
"Has this one been going on long, Buck?"

"Well, I should RECKON! It started thirty year ago, or som'ers along there. There was trouble 'bout something, and then a lawsuit to settle it; and the suit went agin one of the men, and so he up and shot the man that won the suit—which he would naturally do, of course. Anybody would."

"What was the trouble about, Buck?—land?"

"I reckon maybe—I don't know."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Views and no Vues

The animation belows models the effect that building a 28-story tower just west of The Peabody would have on the Hotel's awesome, city-defining view. It's moot for now.
And it was an opportunity to play with Google Earth, using 3D models hastily created in Blender.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Beifuss on Our Lady of Manifest Destiny

John Beifuss is dead on in his new blog:
...I give a goggle-eyed thumbs up to the green lawn jockey on steroids erected outside the World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church at the corner of Winchester and Kirby Parkway. I always loved the Brobdingnagian grocery sackers that stood outside Memphis' old Giant food stores, and I'm a fan of the monster mouse with the Volkswagen-sized slice of Swiss cheese that sits on top of that business on South Bellevue;
Yes! OLoMD joins the great, if fractured, Memphis tradition of entrepeneurial showmanship and roadside artistry, including the Giant Sacker and the Bellevue Mouse and of course the Great Sign. It's definitely a tradition that influences my primary delusion.

Regarding OLoMD's intentional message, and its commingling of church and state icons, I guess I don't have a problem with it -- as long as its done by a private individual on private property. To me using Lady Liberty to sell Jesus (or Jesus to sell liberty) is very much in the grand American tradition of using public icons to market private products and causes. We need look no further than our television set in the month of February: Abraham Lincoln and George Washington making many a half-off Presidents' Day Sale pitch. The marketeers of these sales are clearly violating the separation of furniture store and state. But private individuals can do as they will with their imaginative work, even if it includes Lady Liberty, urine, and 6-piece dining room sets.