Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Make a Place

Friends for Our Riverfront, another overachieving citizens brigade, is hosting a placemaking workshop on Saturday, March 31:
We’ve got a shot at dreaming a dynamic role for our riverfront on Saturday, March 31 - with a little help from the Project for Public Spaces (PPS). They’re known world-wide for working with communities to create public places that people use and love.

PPS calls the process "Placemaking," and the most important ingredient is YOU.

It’ll run from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Jack Robinson Gallery (Front & Huling). Details and sign-up are at

Help shape our city’s future. Now is time, so bring your ideas and imagination and COME.

See you on the 31st.
Virginia McLean
President, Friends for Our Riverfront
They saved the riverfront and all I got was this mug

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Season's Greetings from Chinatown!

A couple of weeks ago, I was up on my roof taking down my Christmas lights1. I was almost finished when I noticed this blemish in the relatively new shingles.

I thought at first that it was some kind of fastener that the roofers had put in. But it was pretty wide and pretty exposed and definitely unlike anything else I could see on the roof. So I got a knife to inspect it and it came out pretty easy. And as I had begun to suspect, it was a bullet.

I'm pretty sure it wasn't there when I put the lights up in early December. So my guess is it landed on my roof on New Year's Eve. Shot by one of the idiots you hear firing bursts in the remote distance.

Which brings me to the title of my post. For a number of years, I've heard those bursts but never done anything about it. It made me mad but figured if I called the police, I would get a "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown." response, phrased by a bureaucrat in blue rather than Robert Towne. That was my fault. By doing nothing, I said it, not the imagined police officer. I should have given the police a chance to do something, which I didn't.

But isn't it Chinatown?

Hell no, it's not Chinatown! We're a major city in a major nation in the early 21st century. And as a collateral effect of our nation's spending so much on the military, we now have all these technologies in the public sphere that developed first in the military. One such is gunshot location -- a way to pinpoint the location of gunshot.

Before I start sounding like I know what I'm talking about, let me say that I didn't know that such technologies even existed when I dug the bullet out. I could have imagined, but didn't know. 'til then I thought police would just have to wait around and listen real good to catch the idiots. Luckily I had a friend who had heard about London using gunshot location.

Anyway, maybe this technology is the kind of thing that MATAlac was referring to:
...I think the root problem is that Memphis doesn't realize that all of these ills have been vaccinated in other places. Our leaders attend these national conferences and meet with people who have solved these problems, yet they don't apply them here.
I'm not such an idiot that I believe gunshot location technology will cure our crime problems. But, it could be part of a crime-fighting cocktail.

Therefore my 2007 New Year's Eve (or before) Resolutions:
  1. I'm going to send a letter, complete with pictures, to my Mayors plus my City Council Person, Carol Chumney, and ask that they consider this technology.
  2. Next time I hear celebratory gunfire I'm going to call the police and leave Chinatown behind.

1Yes, it reads pretty bad that I was taking down my Christmas lights in early February. It is. But that very same day, I saw 2 Christmas trees lying curbside outside 2 different houses. I swear!

Labels: ,

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Movement Called Save Libertyland

It's amazing the amount of work the group called Save Libertyland have produced. They have:
And that's all I can think of. There's almost certainly more.

For its part the City of Memphis has
  • gutted Libertyland -- in other words, destroyed.
  • paid a consultant $27,000 to produce this report [pdf!] and some architectural illustrations. The report is interesting and is neutral on the issue of Libertyland (it is one of the possible uses). However, I don't think the City has implemented a single idea in the report.
Outside of that, they haven't built, or conceptualized, or visualized anything, except maybe in their own head. Even a new stadium, a $150 million dollar undertaking at the least, has almost no specifics or visuals attached to it.

Citizens without much money have done much. Politicians and bureaucrats with much money and much power have done little -- nothing! And I'm being charitable because destruction is less than nothing.

I don't think Save Libertyland is an isolated phenomenon. I think they're the Memphis vanguard of a movement. It's a movement that an MIT conference, Beyond Broadcast 2007, just finished addressing. The conference's hypothesis, that the skills that emerge in the course of participating in pop culture can become powerful forces when translated into tools of civic engagement is a template for Save Libertyland, 'cept SL predates that hypothesis.

Long Live Libertyland!

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, February 22, 2007

2 Prototypes for the Gates of Memphis

The first is the well-known Cadillac Ranch, along Route 66/Interstate 40 outside of Amarillo, TX.

The second, which I had not heard of until this podcast of Smart City with Carol Coletta, is the Angel of the North in Gateshead, England.

Here's an interactive view and photos from the construction of the Angel.

They're prototypical in spirit and concept (a roadside announcement of place and history through symbolic and material reuse), but not form, to what will be The Gates of Memphis.

People zip past Memphis all the time on their way from/to parts unknown. Why shouldn't we herald the city with monuments befitting its great name?

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Revenge of the Kitties: 2 Retail Models for Memphis

New findings from Gates Of Memphis Research (GOMR). a bunch of hippie claptrap!We need to brand this initiative!Inspired by this event and this very interesting comment, posted nearly a year after the commented-on story appeared.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, February 19, 2007

Ride the Zippin Pippin! Part 0.1

This is an animated wireframe "sketch" of a 3D model I'm building, from photos, my wife's memory (she rode it about a thousand times) and Google Earth images, of the Zippin Pippin, Memphis' rollercoaster (and Elvis' favorite)

Besides the fact that it's wireframe and incompletely modeled to boot, I'm still working on the timing of the drops and stops and starts. Here's a look at an early textured still.

I want to do more of this stuff as part of this blog. I'm a big believer in visual persuasion.

Making with Blender 3D!

Update: read last week's CA article for more details on the Zippin Pippin's fate.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, February 16, 2007

Blame it on HAL

If you want to do something unpopular, blame it on HAL.

HAL's a perfect fall-guy. All his life he's been a mysterious and shameless gold-digger and henchman.

But HAL is changing. He is helping pull back the curtains that obscure the real machinations, the schemes that require a fall-guy like HAL.

He might even help Memphis make the evolutionary leap from a disastrous hierarchic past.

In the future, when they try to blame HAL, we won't believe them.

STFU, Dave

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

From South Parkway With Love

Now THAT'S amore!A snapshot of the best pizza in the world, from Coletta's Italian Restaurant on South Parkway.

Not only is it great, it's an incredible value. Especially so on Valentine's Day, when they reshape their crust for love and in doing so, give you the equivalent of a medium for the price of a small, and a large for the price of a medium.

Good eating for 2 days!

Labels: , , , , ,

A Gut Feeling and a Fun Fact

I feel that Memphis is going through a long and painful second birth.

I'd call it a rebirth, but that's kind of a boosterish term. It's too early to see or know what will happen.

Maybe it began in 1991, with the election of Mayor Herenton.

And maybe it's like the second birth of Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Great people, the obvious possibility for democracy but with it the reality of corruption and crime and cronyism.

We're trying to figure it out, but most of our answers seem to come either from the past, or a present that is shaped so strongly by the past that we think it is unchanging. But it is as mutable as the past was disastrous.

So that leaves the future. But how in Hell do you get answers from the future?

Maybe by saying what we want to do and who we want to be, then reverse-engineering those dreams back to here.

But it's gotta be dreams -- no more press releases!

And now the Fun Fact: the Herenton Administration and modern Russia began on the same day -- January 1st, 1992.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sepia-Saturated Memories from the archives of the Commercial Appeal

Some stuff I found from early February 1937.

I'm actually looking for something else when I find these.

I swar I'm not trying to spam you; it just works out that way.

Labels: ,

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Dixie Homes from outer space and auld lang syne

I was scrolling around Google Earth and saw this very interesting street layout not far from Downtown:

After a few minutes I ciphered it was Dixie Homes, the housing project at Pauline and Poplar.

The architect of Dixie Homes was J. Frazer Smith, who was profiled in an article last June by Frederick Koeppel (I believe the CA has already Berlin Walled the article). I also came upon the essay The Art of Architecture: Modernism In Memphis 1890 - 1980 by architectural historian Judith Johnson. Turns out Smith was not only an architect but an early historical preservationist.
A complex person, he wrote a history of the early nineteenth-century plantation architecture of the Middle South, White Pillars, and simultaneously designed housing projects sensitive to recent international developments in housing design. During the Depression, Smith was also the regional chief of the Historic American Building Survey (HABS). Ironically, he would order the city’s original nineteenth century building stock located in the Market square slums surveyed by HABS before he demolished it for the construction of Lauderdale Courts.
The irony continues -- they've begun demolition of the Dixie Homes.

Karmic backlash 50 years after Smith's death.

By the way, below's an illustration of the Dixie Homes grounds from the final presentation [a very interesting pdf!] of last summer's Winchester Park/Intown Charette.

This might mean Smith's layout will live, if not his buildings.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, February 09, 2007

Greening Greater Memphis Follow-up

Judging by the throng of people who packed the Botanic Gardens for the birth of this movement, I would say it is a very healthy baby.

Anyway, Gary Bridgman left a comment earlier with a link to pictures of the event. You'll get a good idea of the support this movement is getting when you look at the crowd. As an added bonus, in the flickr set, Gary has some really beautiful pictures of the Wolf River that'll make you curse clear-cutters and other despoilers of this gorgeous place.

If you didn't make it, you can see the movement's manifesto here.

Forever Live Green Greater Memphis!

Labels: , ,

What to do with the Pyramid, Idea #752 1/2

It's half an idea because I'm appropriating someone else's really good idea and removing the bad piece.

Smart City Memphis wrote a post a few months ago called "The Mid-South Fair Can't Just Be Fair Any More", in which they offhandedly suggested moving the Fair from the Fairgrounds to the Pyramid grounds. That's the really good part. The not so good part: Smart City wants to demolish the Pyramid to provide the grounds.

Demolish? Et tu, Smart City?

Anyway, my half of the idea is to give the Mid-South Fair a permanent easement to the Pyramid with the following conditions:
  • they can't sell it.
  • they can't demolish it.
  • they can't modify the exterior without approval of the Landmarks Commission.
  • they can use it to provide space for their exhibits and entertainment during the Fair and auditorium space for non-profit institutions and educational institutions the rest of the year. That's it. The Sege will have to find alternate arrangements.
We will engrave this agreement on Rameses chest so there will be no misplacing the document.

Why is this a brilliant half an idea?

Lots of space: the parking lots below Front Street are massive and could hold much if not all the midway that the Fairgrounds provided. The meeting rooms inside the Pyramid could provide all the exhibit space provided by multiple Fairground buildings. And the main auditorium would provide the space once given by the Coliseum. What about the livestock? There might even be space in the Pyramid for them.

Good space: the sunken parking lots below Front provide barriers between inside the Fair and out. On the west there are the floodwalls; on the south, a parking garage; on the east, the wall of Front Street; on the north, the Pyramid and Auction Street Bridge.

Parking (aka Our Purpose): because the trolley goes right by the sunken parking lot, you can park anywhere Downtown and take the trolley directly to the front entrance of the Fair. Better than Disneyland! Kids will love it. I will love it.

Ease of travel: Downtown is easier to get to than the Agricenter and the Fairgrounds from most starting points (except Cordova/Germantown and Midtown respectively), including East Shelby County and Fayette County, Millington and Tipton County, east Arkansas, and northern Mississippi.

Free advertising to a captive audience: When you were a kid, did you ever see a roadside fair and scream until your parents got off the highway? I did. We'll supersize that family ritual by putting the Fair next to an interstate bridge.

New customers for Downtown -- kids: Their parents may be afeared for their lives, but kids want to go to the Fair! And the memories Downtown will create -- of riding the trolley, going in the Pyramid, riding the rides with the pointy monolith hovering above them, seeing the Missisippi at dusk from a ferris wheel while eating a fried twinkie -- will be with them happily for the rest of their lives.

The downside:

It doesn't do anything about the debt: We'd still have that. But guess what? We have that now. In fact, most of the other ideas floated for the Pyramid require additional public funding, on the hope that we would see increased tax revenue from the new use. So this would save us money.

The structure and land will lie fallow most of the year (ala, the Fairgrounds): This is sort of true. The Pyramid could still operate for college and high school graduations and for non-profit events (if these aren't in violation of Memphis' agreement with the Grizzlies). But the rest of the time it wouldn't be doing anything except as an office for the Mid-South Fair. However, unlike the Fairgrounds, the parking lots below Front are built under interstate exits and entrances and bridges and probably couldn't be put to many other productive uses without removing the entrances and exits and bridges.

The new use might encourage the "building" of more surface parking lots in the Pinch District: Maybe, but the underuse of it along with the almost certain increase in property values will make this less likely.

The Pyramid is a White Elephant; this idea does nothing about that: Pyramids are White Elephants. Through human history, pyramids have served three main purposes: burial, weird religious rituals, and basketball. When the Ancients lost basketball, they had to go find some dead guy or live virgin.

We've got the Mid-South Fair.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Chief of Confusion to speak in Memphis

Leadership Memphis is hosting their 3rd Annual Community Leadership Breakfast on March 7. John Seely Brown, formerly Chief Scientist of Xerox Corporation and the director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and now the Chief of Confusion, is their featured speaker. According to LM's website, the topic of Mr. Brown's talk will be "innovation, particularly as it relates to economic development, community development and innovative leadership. Innovation is differentiation."

The Breakfast is open to the public. Registration is $50.

If you can't attend the breakfast, check out his website or listen to this excellent podcast interview (here are the interview notes) with Mr. Brown. The theme of the interview was the transformation of education by a participatory architecture of learning. A favorite quote from the interview:
"I always think about developing the edge, and letting the edge transform the core"
I'm looking forward to hearing his ideas on innovation and the city. I'd like to hear how we might apply the same participatory architecture to the transformation of cities, or at least innovation in cities.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Good developments in Crosstown

Cleveland and Larkin development, CrosstownDoing my usual wandering about and decided to take these pictures of some good things happening in Crosstown. First there's the preparation that's being done for a new development (here's a Memphis Business Journal article and editorial on the development from a year ago). This is on the site of the old Colonial Bakery at Cleveland and Larkin.

It's on the west side of Cleveland. The west side! Excellent.

I can't find any images of the proposed houses but the MBJ article included the following:
Architect Jeff Blackledge, owner of Blackledge Architecture, says the homes will follow the bungalow style of many Midtown homes, with porches and large windows. Likewise, the two-story townhomes will mirror Midtown apartment blocks seen along Madison and Poplar, with brick facades and porticos. The homes will have subtle design features such as light fixtures, tilework and crown molding reminiscent of the 1920s and 1930s.
If they're of quality design, they will strengthen the neighborhood.

The other development was a medical building on Monroe between Watkins and Raine Place.

Monroe and Raine Place, Crosstown MemphisThis building replaced an abandoned nursing home from the 60's that had become a self-styled rest home for vagrants.

Although it's recessed from the sidewalk, I believe there are 4 pretty positive aspects to it:
  1. it looks good;
  2. the wrought iron fence makes up for the building's setback by creating an architectural space at the sidewalk (as well as providing security from the previous occupants);
  3. although there is a driveway at the front of the building, there is no parking directly in front.
  4. They kept the mature trees on the sidewalk in front.
One more thing. Both of these are within 3 blocks of the site that Target may be building on Watkins and Poplar. They're proof that Crosstown is far from dead, and very worthy of good architecture.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

DIY Citizenry

There are 4 upcoming events organized by citizens who are working for change in the city. The events:
  • Enough is Enough, a group that will meet once a month for Dutch Treat Luncheons and discussion by "people who want to make a change". The first meeting is this Saturday at 12 noon at the Picadilly Cafeteria on Mount Moriah.
  • The upcoming Shelby County Democratic Party reorganization. See Polar Donkey for a passionate and persuasive pitch for the potential power (in the best sense of the word) of citizen participation in the reorg.
  • The christening of the Greening of Greater Memphis movement this Thursday February 8, 2007 at the Memphis Botanic Gardens. Doors will open at 5:00pm and the program will begin at 6:00pm. You'll even have a chance to sign the Greening of Greater Memphis manifesto.
  • A complimentary event sponsored by the Friends for Our Riverfront and other local organizations is a talk by Charles Jordan, who served as Director of Parks in Portland, Oregon for more than two decades and is today Chairman of The Conservation Fund. The talk is this Saturday, February 10 at 10 AM at the Memphis College of Art Auditorium in Overton Park.

Labels: ,

Monday, February 05, 2007

More, Not Less, in Downtown Memphis

An answer from the past to a recent post by Paul Ryburn:
having spent much of my life in Boston, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco, I can assure everyone in Memphis that downtown Memphis has far fewer panhandlers and homeless than I am used to encountering in other great American cities. Rather, what makes their presence in Memphis so salient is the relative emptiness of the streets, something I've already commented on in the context of pedesterian-friendliness. Thus, in Memphis, it's often the case that the only people in the streets are the panhandlers, so they make up a much greater percentage of the individuals you encounter as you walk around downtown Memphis than they would in any city with regular foot traffic.

So, want to fix up the problem of making downtown Memphis a more attractive destination? Get more people out on the streets; never mind the panhandlers.
Stop thinking less. Start thinking more.

Labels: ,

Folk Multimedia in Memphis

Show Me My Opponent, Mo' Money Taxes CommercialThis thread on the always educational Goner Records Message Board reminds me: Memphis has had some the weirdest and therefore best local media in the WORLD. Between Sivad, studio wrestling and locally-produced commercials, we seem to keep producing very weird and personally conceived commercial media. The Mo' Money1 commercials are just another feather in our hair.

The commercials are great because they appear to be brainchildren of non-professionals (at least as we think of professionals), or very special professionals. I could be dead wrong, but you think they might be conceived by the entrepeneurs themselves.

My all time favorite: a Bailey's Furniture and Appliance2 commercial, advertising satellite dishes. The commercial featured 2 satellite dishes; in the middle of the dishes were the disembodied heads of Mr. Bailey, the store owner, and local rockabilly legend Eddie Bond. They were like singing flowers, except they weren't singing, they were pitching, and they weren't flowers, they were satellite dishes. Bonds and Bailey's talking heads take turns making their pitch. Finished, their heads start spinning, their voices go "ooooohhhhhhhhh!", and their spinning heads shoot off into outer space.

And then there was Brother Hal of Jolly Royal Furniture. Brother Hal was strictly voiceover. He was supposed to be folksy, but it was a Binghamton barfly folksy. I'm not sure if he really said "if you miss this sale, it'll be the worst thing since Hitler", but I definitely heard him say "if you miss this sale, I'll switch your legs."

If someone were to produce a DVD (with a good straightforward commentary track) containing the many, many weird commercials that came from Memphis, it could make a good deal of mo' money for some local charity. It could be national. But no stinkin' Memphis nostalgia. The commercials will be straight up weird and the commentary just the straight facts of the conception, production and distribution.

1My liking the commercials doesn't mean I like, or dislike, the products. In Mo' Money's case, Wendi C. Thomas' recent story questions the harm of their product. Caveat emptor! Caveat lector!

2Since I can't find any info on this, I'm remembering that it was Bailey Furniture and Appliance. Pretty sure, but not positive.

Labels: , , , ,

A Professional Architecture School for Memphis?

Gate, architectural drawing of the Beaux-Arts school in Paris.The University of Memphis is planning a professional architecture program. According to Professor Michael Hagge, coordinator for the University's architecture program, they will base their professional program "on the national 4+2 model. The degree will be for persons already holding the four-year pre-professional degree or a professional Bachelor of Architecture (we will offer the one-year M.Arch to these people, primarily for people who wish to teach). We will not be offering the three-to-four-year M.Arch degree. That is available at UT-K."

The emphasis of the M.Arch will be on "city-building," an interdisciplinary approach to building livable cities that will include collaboration with the University's urban planning and real estate departments (and hopefully will have a strong preservation and redevelopment element).

Right now, the school has a 4 year pre-professional program. It appears to have a lot of dedicated students -- I saw a bunch participating at the AIA's chalk art festival -- but Memphis loses them at the end of their 4 years because we don't have a professional program. They have to go to a professionally accredited architecture school if they're going to be an architect. Presently, the closest professional architecture schools are at UT-Knoxville, the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Mississippi State University in Starkville and Auburn University in Alabama.

The professional program is not a done deal -- it still has to go before the Tennessee Board of Regents for approval. If approved, Memphis will have 6 years of architecture students in the city.

I don't know how activist architecture students tend to be, but 6 years of future architects could end up being a major independent force for visual and physical quality in Memphis.


Labels: , , , ,