Sunday, December 31, 2006

It's all about perspective

Tom Lee Memorial, Mississippi River, Memphis

You call that a river? That's an ocean!

- little girl in Tom Lee Park
New Year's Eve, 2006

Friday, December 29, 2006

Holiday Presents for Memphis

sidewalk outside Otherlands Coffee BarI just wanted to point out a few gifts from some local sites.

There's In Praise of Memphis from fearlessvk, the Memphis impatriate and writer of the excellent blog At Home She Feels Like a Tourist. My favorite among her list of reasons to praise Memphis is "The True DIY Culture". Favorite not because I think it's more true, but because it's usually not mentioned at all, especially and obviously by official Memphis. To me, DIY culture -- with its creativity, low-cost and educational value -- is a, if not the, future of Memphis.

Two presents came from Commercial Appeal on Christmas Day. First, there's a great 8-part series (that begins here) on the Mississippi River (that begins here). What I like about the series is its strong emphasis on the River's personal and aesthetic qualities, which are often forgotten by or never taught to those who live here.

Second there's this editorial on the Tennessee Brewery development, which states:
If city officials make exceptions to land-use rules that endanger the neighborhood's character, then they run the risk of depressing property values. That, in turn, would translate into lower tax revenues from one of the inner city's few high-growth areas.
It's nice to see the morning daily take the position that allowing the demolition and destruction of our city is not pro-development, it is anti-business and anti-future.
[Note, both pieces from the Commercial Appeal may require registration and probably be firewalled eventually. A big mistake, imho. It would be interesting to see how much revenue they generate by charging for old articles vs. lost authority and lost advertising revenue from freely displaying those old articles (see Newspaper 2.0). Anyway, when I speak of presents here, I speak of the thoughts and sentiments given, not the actual text.]

Finally, I wanted to point out 2 great and dynamic Memphis websites have RSS feeds. First there's the Goner Records Message Boards, whose RSS feed is I don't know if this was an intentional or default addition to their website, but now you can track new forum topics with whatever RSS reader (or other RSS app) you like to use. Then there's this RSS feed from Live From Memphis, which they note is in beta and only likely to work with Safari on a Mac. That's okay. With the many artists and events that are added to their website regularly, it will be a great way to track these additions once it's out of beta.

Thanks to all of you for your great works.

Where I'll be New Year's Eve

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Good News for the Tennessee Brewery

From the citizens fighting to Save the Brewery:
Thanks to the involvement of residents, architects, attorneys, and June West from Memphis Heritage and others, the development of the Brewery has been delayed.

Having citizens attend the meetings on the 19th and 20th was critical. Bodies counted!

However, the story is not over---just a breather for the holidays!

On December 19th, the City Council voted to delay hearing the issues related to the LUCB (height and width variances), given that the Board of Adjustment was not meeting until the 20th.

At the Board of Adjustment meeting on the 20th, the developer withdrew their request for a re-hearing of their request for a density variance.

Our understanding is that the intention of the developers is to go back to the LUCB with new plan, and with a request to declare the Brewery project a P.D. (planned development), and that one of the advantages of such a designation for the developers would be that it would circumvent the need to get a density variance from the Board of Adjutment in the future. We also understand that they are engaging a new architect to re-design the project.

We hope that the developer will put forward a plan that will comply with zoning restrictions and will preserve the Brewery's status as a historic landmark.

We will continue to try to get the word out to concerned citizens and residents as opportunities to communicate with the developer, Memphis Heritage, and the LUCB present themselves.

Thanks again.

Mary V. Relling

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

City Council Vote on Brewery Delayed

The City Council voted to postpone consideration of the appeal of the Tennessee Brewery development until the first week of February. They postponed their action due to the pending vote by the Board of Adjustment to re-hear the density variance appeal for the development. If the BoA denies the appeal, any City Council vote tonight would have been rendered moot. A BoA vote tomorrow against the density re-hearing will stop the development (at least as it's planned now).

So far, not bad.

The Board meeting is today, December 20, at 1:00 p.m in the City Council chambers on the 1st floor of City Hall. Citizens showing up to support this cause will help (I don't think I'll be able to get off my day job for this).

[Update: I've corrected the time and date for the meeting, thanks to a note from June West.]

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Monday, December 18, 2006

New threat to Memphis: Sock Puppets

Memphis' wikipedia entry is under attack from sock puppets. Is this a Memphis-based troll, or a random troll?

The Longassed Day

This Tuesday, December 19, the appeals for the Tennessee Brewery go before the City Council. First, there's a Planning and Zoning Committee Meeting in Room 501 of City Hall at 2 p.m. After that the City Council's Executive Session will hear the appeal. The executive session wil start at 3 p.m. but the Tennessee Brewery appeal is listed as the second to last item on the agenda -- number 49 out of 50 items on the agenda [careful! pdf].

49 out of 50? A flashmob might come in handy here. Actually it would come in very handy in architectural preservation.

Flash or not, come on down and support the cause!

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Rise of Memphis: A Prologue

Detail from downtown buildingMemphis ascends.

This is not boosterism, but a fact, backed 100% by anecdotal evidence. It's not an unblemished ascent, not free of the problems that were built into Memphis at its founding, but it is an ascent.

It's hard to see if you haven't been here long -- it's not glacial, but it is gradual. And it's hard to see if you deny or forget the evil that was perpetrated, tolerated or experienced by our ancestors, watching your vision of Memphis as a White-supremacist Singapore recede into the past.

It is an ascent. For the first time in my life in Memphis, it really appears that for every step down we take 2 up.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Need an antidote for civic cynicism?

The cantilevered stairwell in the Library lobbyGo to the Benjamin Hooks Central Library on a Sunday. Parking lot full. Waiting line for the computers. Lots of kids.

On a Sunday.

With the new library, Memphis hit the Trifecta:

  1. city leaders make good decisions.
  2. a beautiful building creates demand for what's inside and improves the area surrounding it.
  3. The citizens of Memphis use it and learn.

I wonder if the branch libraries are this busy. I also wonder if their computers see the same use as the Central Library.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

To the Brewery! By way of the City Council.

The Tennessee Brewery before Prohibition and CondosMore from the good citizens at Save the Brewery:
Neighbors: action is needed.
1. Thanks for the recommendations on an architect. The key will be someone who can work fast and attend the hearing on December 19th.
2. Please try to attend the City Council meeting on December 19th! The full council meeting starts at 3:30-4:00pm and this agenda item will be heard when it is called. If this agenda item is on the back end of the agenda we are trying to get it moved up. As soon as we know a time, we will let you know! Send emails or phone numbers if you want to be called with the exact time, and tell your friends. We have been told that having bodies, willing to "sign the cards" to speak out against the action, is critical to the council.
3. The Tenn. Brewery appeal has been scheduled for noon or 1PM on the same day, December 19, 2006, for the Zoning and Planning Committee (presently headed by Rickey Peete). Please try to attend this meeting too. This is the group that ignored the prior neighborhood complaints about the height variance; anyone who can attend this hearing, please do so!
4. We know that many of you have already sent letters to the Council. Please ALSO send a letter (sample attached) expressing your opposition to the Office of Planning and Development
Attention: Chip Saliba
125 N. Main, Room 468,
Memphis, TN. 38103
Also, if you let me know that you have sent a letter, or send me a copy, we will ensure that the City Council knows that such letters have been sent and that they must be presented.
Memphis City Council
125 North Main Street,
Room 514
Memphis, TN 38103
Ph: (901) 576-6786
Fax: (901) 576-6796
Mary V. Relling
481 Tennessee Street
Memphis, TN 38103
For the wonkish, here are the Special exception requirements and Site plan review requirements for the South Central Business Improvement District. Want more? Here are the Standards and proof required for variations which is what I believe, maybe, could be, should be decided by the Board of Adjustment on December 20th.

Wonkish, geekish, whatever. There's something about browsing through the City Charter and Code that I find reassuring -- the bedrock of the rule of law.

Long live Goldcrest 51!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Curse of Andrew Jackson

Jackson's Eye from the 20 dollar bill
Whatever destiny may have in store for it, Memphis has always been essentially a real estate deal.
Stanley Booth
A beautiful no-holds barred essay on Memphis. It could be assigned to Memphis schoolchildren but somebody would complain about the Casey Jones part.

Speaking of holes barred, autoegocrat and Paul Ryburn are absolutely right -- Thaddeus Matthews' coverage of Main Street Sweeper is awesome.

Finally, check out 55-40's breakdown of the 4 industries of Memphis (3 aren't represented on the Seal).

Destiny? If we don't create a separation of politician and real estate developer, Memphis' destiny could be a nuclear waste dump.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

This Blog is not about Politics

but, but, but, recent events make all too clear that corruption of our government corrupts our physical environment as well.

Laughably unoriginal ways we can change this:
  1. enact term limits for all elected officials in the land. If you think this is a reaction to a specific politician's long tenure, you're wrong. It's about all elected officials. Term limits will diminish the influence and power of career politicians, taking away many of the fat targets of the corrupters and giving more citizens a chance for elected office.
  2. banish for life from elected and appointed office any elected or appointed official ever convicted of official misconduct. They can vote as a citizen, they can participate in the political process as a citizen, but they can never serve again. The SEC banishes men and women from our securities markets for their transgressions; there's no reason we should do less to those who abuse our constitutions and charters and trust.
  3. treat our City Council members as full-time employees. According to this article by the Flyer's John Branston, City Council members are paid $30,100 (by the City Charter, equal to that of a Shelby County Commissioner). Since that's more than many City of Memphis employees are paid (here's one and another), I think we should consider City Council members as full-time employees -- no moonlighting allowed! And they must recuse themselves from any vote, whether on a committee or in general session, in which they or a family member have a financial interest, including employment.
  4. require a super-majority of the Land Use Control Board, Board of Adjustment and City Council in order to approve zoning variances where there is opposition to a variance. I thought this might be nutty -- inflexible, unrealistic -- but apparently it is required in other places. Not so nutty!

Jimmy the Predator in Overton Park Woods