Saturday, January 13, 2007

south of Southern

The Commercial Appeal ran a story Saturday morning about the University of Memphis' plans for a new nursing building. The University's choice of location -- the South Campus.

The University has owned that huge underused parcel, formerly known as the Kennedy Hospital, since 1966. (See photo outlined in green -- lots o' space).

University of Memphis, South Campus
Yet during this time it's expanded primarily north across Central into an established, architecturally sound neighborhood. They acquired, then demolished, many fine homes for this northward push. (See photo with red outline. The outline marks what the university has acquired and with a few exceptions, bulldozed).
University of Memphis, North of CentralAnd with nary an exception, they replaced each house with something far, far, far away uglier. This includes the Central surface parking lots, the banal student dormitories that border Poplar and the hyper-bland Holiday Inn. They did save many of the mature trees, but everything else -- "kaboom!"

Meanwhile, the South Campus has remained largely unused. And the area surrounding has declined. Crime has increased, in the commercial areas especially. The University, by finally turning their interest southward, can really help stabilize the area. They have a lot of undeveloped land that doesn't have to be seized or bulldozed. The presence of more students, faculty and staff will give adjoining neighborhoods confidence about the future. And a beautiful structure would be a catalyst for other improvements.

If we can diminish the Central neighborhood with bad architecture, we can improve the Sherwood Forest, Audubon Park and Cherry/Quince neighborhoods with great architecture.

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Blogger MATAlac said...

I fully concur on both points Gates. The regents have had that real estate for years and been scratching their heads about how to deal with it and its distance from the main campus.

As for the abysmal development north of central, it reflects the strange short-sightedness of planners that has plagued the college for awhile (like really - why the hell did the campus sell wesley towers) I believe that the low flung, suburban-esque student housing fronting Poplar is a backlash from Richardson Tower. All in all the campus has all the charm and character of an air force base, even after they put the fountain in, a couple of terrible parking buildings and put up snazzy signage to say U of M. I think the kooky reimageing of Brister library says it all, "this place is obviously not built to last". I think U of M growth should have tried harder to do a few things well than many things medochre. That thought also applies to the city in general.

In honor of the fine educators and alumni I have had the pleasure of making aquaintance over the years, I hold out hope for better idea of what the U of M should be.

On the subject of satellite campuses, I've been consistantly disappointed with the U of M (and the Memphis higher education community as a whole) that a decent graduate center within downtown proper has never been brought up outside of moving the law school to the Customs House/Post Office.

Let's say that you moved for a job and had a BA from a big school. What are your options for continuing on to your MS or MBA? Nothing convient at all comes to mind. Many cities have very highly recognized graduate centers in their downtowns, a great place to show off the city smarts right around the corner from where they are needed, not some place where you have to get in your car and park again.

12:20 AM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

matalac, my post came off more critical than I'd originally wished. I stand by the criticism, but it was only as a counterpoint to what (I hope) they're about to do.

Let's hope.

And continue. I think their dated suburban ideas about architecture have often undercut their growing national ambitions. I mean, only someone whose taste was formed by the suburban South would think the Holiday Inn was anything other than ugly, both in its suburban layout and aforementioned blandness. Another example: the Fedex Institute of Technology. A beautiful building, I think, but they deface it with a surface parking lot at the front because they can't bear to say goodbye to suburbia. But no one will take the campus seriously until they it the heave-ho.

12:48 AM  
Blogger fearlessvk said...

i work at the U of M and could not agree more about the woeful suburban mentality that really infects the appearance of the campus. i went to graduate school in a place where i walked to campus every single day, sharing the sidewalks leading to campus with dozens of students, professor, administrators, staff, research associates, scientists, fellows, writers, artists-in-residence, etc etc. you could feel the creative brainpower just walking to campus every morning (ok, afternoon, to be honest!) now i drive to campus, park in a giant hideous parking garage, and walk for approximately 2 minutes from the garage to the building where my office is, which i don't leave intil i walk 2 minutes back to the parking garage and drive back downtown. this is a terrible terrible way of getting to a university and integrating yourself into an academic community. i understand people have to drive to schools everywhere, but it shouldn't feel like the school is a strip mall.

12:20 AM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

What (I think) the University is struggling with is what Memphis is struggling with -- are we going to build to the mediocre tastes of 1960s architects and leaders or are we going to move forward? Everytime I feel bad about beating up my alma mater, I remember this: the University has pronounced national ambitions. If that ambition is anything more than a typo from a discarded press release, they have to raise their standards. Visual mediocrity is a threat to their ambitions. Never, ever, ever, deny the power of eye-candy.

Their moving the law school down to the old customs house is definitely raising the standard. It will be fun to see how the U reacts to the looming "parking problem" down there. Will they freak out when inexpensive surface parking is no longer considered a Right of Man? Or will they trust their students to figure it out? My gut tells me that a freak-out, if it comes, will come predominantly from legacy staff and faculty.

11:23 PM  
Blogger fearlessvk said...

i'm definitely excited about the law school coming downtown. that's like two blocks away from my front door! do you anticipate the law school opening up downtown will have other beneficial impacts for downtown? i don't know if i'm being wildly optimistic imagining various chains of consequences from the law school move that would be really good for downtown.

5:23 PM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

fearlessvk, I think it will be a major catalyst for that section of downtown, finishing what the Madison Hotel began. The building and setting will attract more students and faculty; more students and faculty will give the area more energy, making it even more attractive to students and faculty, and so on. And I think its effects could extend down Madison to places like Downtown Books.

Trying not to oversell this future, but I think it's a reasonable possibility.

11:35 PM  

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