Sunday, April 29, 2007

Memphis Riverfront Placemaking

Project for Public Space and Memphis Riverfront:  A CampaignA million years and a month ago I went to the Friends for Our Riverfront sponsored, Project for Public Spaces led placemaking session for the Memphis riverfront. 135 citizens attended, according to the Commercial Appeal. Members of the FfoR (of course), Memphis Heritage, University of Memphis Department of City Planning, Memphis and Shelby County Office of Planning and Development, and the Riverfront Development Corporation (including its Executive Director, Benny Lendermon -- which is great) and bloggerdom attended, among others.

It began with a short introduction to placemaking by PPS' leader Fred Kent and examples of good and bad examples of waterfront places around the world. We then broke up into groups to wander the riverfront between Adams and Beale, the Mississippi and Court Square, and play the placemaking game.

Placemaking conveyanceEvery participant had the same questions to answer, which included a multiple choice questionnaire about the place (e.g., "rate the place's accessibility", 1 to 5), plus more general questions, like "List short-term changes that could be made to the space to make it more attractive", "Ask users of the space for their reaction to the space." (these are from memory so I've probably gotten them wrong, but not, I think, that wrong.)

Parking Garage of The Damned My group's destination/space was the parking garage next to Confederate Park. Despite all their other acrimony, the RDC and the Friends for Our Riverfront agree that this parking garage should be demolished. It's what to do with the space after demolition that's the major issue.

My group only had me and two other people in it. One was the group leader, Jack Tucker, architect and one of the pioneers since the 1970s of the downtown renaissance. The other group member was Tandy Gilliland, the founding president of the Chickasaw Bluffs Conservancy, the group responsible for giving Memphis the Bluff Walk.
Tandy Gilliland, Chickasaw Bluffs Conservancy
(There are 2 successes from the annals of Memphis activism that blow my mind: the citizens who fought and defeated the proposal to put Interstate 40 through Overton Park, and the citizens who fought the City, powerful developers and powerful property owners and won the right to build the public amenity known as the Bluff Walk. In both cases I wonder, "how the hell did they do that?!")

Much of the time allotted for the placemaking game, I spent placetalking with Mr. Tucker and Mrs. Gilliland (or snapping pictures of surgeons dressed as giant green parasitic insects) instead.

But I did manage to snap this picture, at the foot of the Bluff on Adams.

how do you get there?Across Riverside is the Visitor Center and the harbor but there is no light or crosswalk and a cyclone fence to block you if you could cross. To get from Adams to the Visitor Center, you have to walk down to Jefferson, cross Riverside, then walk to the Visitor Center, which is actually aligned with Adams.

Someone coming from one of the Convention Center hotels would have to take this circuitous route; worse, a traveler who has stopped at the Visitors Center and might like to try out Mud Island has to make the same serpentine route in reverse to get to the Mud Island bridge and monorail. Here's a video to help confuse you.

Here's one unlucky family experiencing the painfully out-of-the-way walk.

Visitors to Memphis
It was pretty obvious how bad this particular problem was and the people who can fix it the fastest, the RDC, were there to walk and witness the problem.

When we returned from the placemaking game, we assembled the many ideas and each group presented theirs. The Friends for our Riverfront and PPS will be creating a report based on the ideas.

Hopefully the report will make clear next steps.

Fred Kent, Project for Public Spaces

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ride the Zippin Pippin, Part 0.2!

If you haven't seen the news, Save Libertyland now owns the Zippin Pippin. In honor of that, I present the next version of my Zippin Pippin work-in-process animation, now with color, some texture, a sky, all in horrible low-resolution!

Click on the image at the bottom of the post to get a little higher-quality vision.

Getting back to reality, the good news about the Zippin Pippin: if it survives, it will survive in Memphis. The bad news: survival isn't assured.

The people who bought the Pippin and have now given it Save Libertyland did not buy the land under the coaster. That still belongs to the City of Memphis. To date, the city has been random at best, antagonistic at worst, to the efforts of Save Libertyland to do as their name states. I hope the city can see the imaginative value of keeping the Pippin and the Carousel in the fairgrounds redevelopment. (I have always envied Alvy Singer for living under a roller coaster at Coney Island).

This Flyer article mentions that SL is also talking to Elvis Presley Enterprises about preserving the ride. This is great, although EPE hasn't been particularly active in preserving Elvis' physical legacy outside of Graceland's gates. Hopefully this will change, but if it doesn't, perhaps they can enlist Elvis fans and fan clubs around the world in the efforts to preserve the ride (and the Chisca too).

initial ascent on the virtual Zippin Pippin

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The Integrity of Feasibility (or vice versa)

Here is the City of Memphis Request for Proposal for a "Feasibility Study for the Development of a New Liberty Bowl Stadium". I point to it because there appears to be a financial incentive for the winning bidder to say the new stadium's feasible. In Section IV (Reporting) of the RFP it reads,
Preliminary Progress Report: The consultant shall provide the Mid-South Fairgrounds Redevelopment Committee’s Stadium Subcommittee with a Preliminary Progress Report at the conclusion of the market analysis and address the threshold question of whether the Stadium is feasible. If it is determined that the project is feasible, the consultant shall complete the demand and financial analysis. If not, the consultant will perform no additional services and be paid solely for the completed market analysis.
And in Section III (Scope of Work),
Recommended Stadium Facility. Subject to the initial determination of project feasibility, the consultant shall develop preliminary design parameters for the Stadium including options for site location and preconceptual building designs. The number of seats, club seats, luxury suites, parking spaces, and other key design attributes should also be discussed. The consultant shall provide an estimate of the preliminary project cost of the Stadium identified by expenditure type for professional services, development costs, site work, cost of construction, fees, testing, and project contingency.
(emphasis mine in both excerpts)

That sounds like a lot of planning work that extends beyond feasibility. A lot of lost work if you say "not feasible!"

Many, or at least most, or at least a massive majority, of Memphians (outside of the Mayor's Office and Folk's Folly) have great skepticism about a new stadium. The study, if it is to be done, should have integrity. The Mayor's Office should firewall the feasibility portion from the planning and design portion. Perhaps even forbid the same consultant from bidding on both the feasibility study and planning/design/construction, in a Sarbanes-Oxley kind of way.

But if the firewall doesn't exist, Memphians should be skeptical of a study that announces "feasible!"

The bids were due last Friday, April 20. The oral presentation are May 3 and the winning bid will be announced May 4.

Update: The Commercial Appeal has a little more about the stadium process in today's paper. Interesting quote: "One of the things that the committee has said is that we will allow the information to drive the process -- not vice versa," [chairman of the fairgrounds redevelopment committee, Cato] Johnson said."

I think it's super they said it. But they didn't write it into the RFP.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Downtown at Barbara Bickart's "When"

Barbara Bickart's When, Friday April 20, Earnestine and Hazel'sIt was a beautiful performance piece at Earnestine and Hazel's, presented by Lantana Projects. It was also a beautiful Friday night on South Main.

Lantana is having a show for Emerging Artists this coming Friday night as well.

South Main on a Friday night, April 2007

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Earth Day Thought: the Green Mesh

the Intersection of the Wolf River Greenway and the Memphis Greenline, Justin McGregor collectionMore than new parks, we need green connections between the parks we already have. We need to be able to walk/bike/jog/etc. between the parks we already have, without having to route through Dyersburg and putting life and limb at unreasonable risk. That's sort of like adding more parks, of course, but the growth of a green mesh is the important thing, not the addition of discrete green pockets that require internal combustion for access.

The photo on the right is another by Justin. He's been doing a lot of exploring of the trails around Shelby Farms and the Wolf River and has taken a lot of very cool pictures. Click on the picture to take a look.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Mindsets of Memphis

I saw this diagram in a post by Guy Kawasaki.

It seems pretty obvious to me that Memphis has a fixed, as opposed to growth, mindset. Or perhaps I should write, Memphis' dominant mindset is static. A fixed mindset has historically dominated, but does not determine, Memphis.

Where does that mindset come from, and how do we fight it?

I think it comes from racism and anti-democratic hierarchism, which still tell us that there's only so much we can do, so sit down and shut up while the leaders figure out the rest.

We fight it by learning and creating -- otherwise ignoring and/or making fun of the boundaries that never existed.

And we can read the book by Professor Carol Dweck, who was the subject of Kawasaki's post.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Greenways and Trails Survey

Where the Memphis Greenline meets the Wolf River GreenwayThe State of Tennessee Recreation Educational Services Division is asking those interested in promoting and creating greenways in Tennessee to fill out a survey. The survey will "assess the needs of trail users for both non-motorized and motorized trails throughout the State of Tennessee. Please print it out, fill it out and mail or fax to the RES office here in Nashville. Deadline to receive Survey comments is June 15, 2007."

Sent in by reader (with RSS, no less!) Gregg.

By the way, this beautiful photo is the Wolf River from the railroad bed that marks the soon-to-be Memphis Greenline. Justin took it during one of his many geocaching expeditions. The cache he found was attached to the bottom of the former railroad bridge that crosses the river.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Boll Weevils Make a Place

2 Saturdays ago I was at the parking garage on Front between Adams and Jefferson with a group of citizens surveying the area for the Placemaking workshop*. I was looking at Front when I noticed the unmistakable green of the Secret Order of the Boll Weevils' Mobile Party Unit.

They used to park the Mobile Party Unit (aka, "Big George"), along with a Weevil-modded firetruck called the "Weevil Wagon", around the corner from my house. Until they moved them permanently a few years ago, my son and I would walk over there once in a while to check Big George and Weevil Wagon out.

So I wanted to get some pictures to show my son. Unfortunately the one above and this one were the only ones I could get.

But looking at this last picture, I noticed that the standing Weevil is making a gesture.

Is he flipping us off? Is he flipping off a bunch of citizen-activists and me? I had to do some Zapruder-esque analysis on that picture.

Here's a detail.

Can't tell for certain.

I've gone in further and blown it up. No filters applied, but it looks like he's not giving us the finger, but the devil horns.

Where were they going? Someone thought they might be on their way to St. Jude to entertain the kids. Maybe they were in a parade somewhere Downtown.

With a vehicle christened the Mobile Party Unit, I think destination is the Boll Weevils' MacGuffin.

* Don't judge the workshop by this post and my inability to stay on-task.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Locating a Downtown Grocery Store

When I first read this Memphis Daily News article, I thought that they were talking about making the proposed grocery store at Auction and Seventh the fabled Downtown grocery. On second reading, it sounds like an Uptown project, specifically designed for the Uptown neighborhood. Nothing wrong with a neighborhood grocery store, especially if they build it to New Urbanist design standards.

As pointed out by my friend Justin in an offline conversation, here's the problem with that being the Downtown grocery store.

A six block walk from the trolley means that most downtown residents, who probably own a car, would drive to this grocery store rather than walk. They're driving now, so this location wouldn't change their experience, only the amount of time they spend in the car getting to the store.

Here's a picture of Downtown/Medical Center/Crosstown. The trolley line's in green, surrounded by an approximate 3 block border in white. (I chose 3 blocks as a not unreasonable amount to walk with a few bags of groceries).

There are lots of places to put a grocery store that downtownies could get to without burning fossil fuels.

By building the grocery store within walking distance of the trolley, we add to the special experience for Downtown residents and visitors. It's this experience that many people want when they move or visit downtown. It's this experience that we should consider with every major project that happens Downtown.

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Embarrassment is Conservative

Anointed Oil Auto Repair, Auction AvenueOver at Lantana Projects, Ian Lemmonds recently interviewed Frederic Koeppel, the art writer for the Commercial Appeal. In a question about getting people to pay attention to your art, he says:
Show as much as you can at spaces that are not embarrassing (no beauty salons, frame stores and pet shops).
But later, in a question about the changes in the Memphis art scene,
We have more alternative spaces, more independent and non-profit groups, more artists (and many of the same artists), but it’s clearly still a struggle to make and sell art in what is essentially an artistically conservative town.
Which leads me to this: maybe we're an artistically conservative town because we label mundane venues as embarrassing.


Because I think we should be an artistically progressive town, and because maybe is good enough for me, here's where we should show art:
  • convenience stores
  • car washes
  • parking garages
  • anywhere Louise Dunavant's paintings hang.
  • barbecue shops
  • MATA buses and trolleys
  • back yards
  • front yards (especially Prince Mongo's front yard)
  • public schools
  • ATMs
  • clubs and coffee houses.
  • feed stores
  • independent used bookstores
  • police precincts
  • pawn shops
  • churches
  • multiplexes
  • sidewalks
  • cafeterias
  • empty buildings
  • empty lots
  • Second Life
  • greenhouses and nursery grounds
  • tattoo parlors
  • anywhere Thomas Kinkade's paintings hang
  • junkyards
  • martial arts academies
  • where newscasters get their hair cut
  • the sides of the Pyramid
  • any setting of a Craig Brewer movie
  • any setting of a John Michael McCarthy movie
  • tanning salons
  • video stores
  • animal shelters
  • public libraries
  • City Council chambers
  • funeral homes
  • liquor stores
  • Chinese food buffets
  • sno-cone emporiums
  • everywhere else
Note: following my advice rather than Mr. Koeppel's will not only harm your career, but possibly the art itself. It could get stolen, it could get shot, it could get barbecue sauce on it.

But I just don't see how Memphis can build whitewalls around art and still shake artistic conservatism.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Pyramid: Icon, Place or Both?

the Pyramid:  Icon and PlaceAs you might figure from my previous post, I went to the Placemaking workshop last Saturday. I enjoyed it and plan on posting more about it soon. However, in the meantime, I've been distracted by this article by the Flyer's John Branston on the workshop, which was led by Fred Kent, the leader of the Project for Public Spaces.
Their [Fred and Ethan Kent's] big idea is that big ideas for city improvements are often wrong, especially if they're architectural monuments. The Kents think a lot of little ideas from a lot of "stake-holders" usually produces a better result. They call it the "power of 10," as in 10 destinations that each have 10 things to do

Not surprisingly, Fred Kent is no fan of The Pyramid or the proposed $27 million Beale Street Landing with its floating pods in the Mississippi River at Tom Lee Park.

"That will be one of the great design disasters that will haunt you for 20 years before you have the guts to take it out," he predicted. "And The Pyramid -- what a bad symbol for a city. I would tear it down. The only question is, will you do it 10 years from now or next year."

(emphasis mine)

Tear it down? Not again!

Never mind my previously stated belief in the power of the Pyramid, Mr. Kent's suggestion violates his own principle. Tearing down the Pyramid is not a little idea -- it's a Big Idea.

Big, Big, Big.

If construction of monuments is hubris, so is their demolition. Opposition to the building of the Pyramid -- that would have been in line with the little principle. But not demolition.

If his dislike is based on it as a Place, I understand that. I've really never heard of it described as public space, outside of its use as an arena. But that wasn't our intention. Memphis wanted an icon. An icon.

That being written, does the Pyramid keep our Riverfront from being a great Place?

It's hardly in a prime location, so it's not blocking us from the River, not now, not 20 years ago. If it were at the foot of Beale, then Mr. Kent would have a point.

Is there anything preventing the Pyramid from being a great Place, or part of a great Place?

Access to the River. Connection to the rest of downtown via an extension of the Bluffwalk, continuing on its way to the Wolf River Greenway. Increased residential density in the adjoining neighborhoods, specifically The Pinch. A use that draws people night and day, 365 days a years. The use doesn't have to be all inside, but it should use the Pyramid in some way.

We should apply Placemaking analysis and principles to the Pyramid and it's surroundings. But suggesting we tear it down in lieu of this analysis seems to be just another Great Man Idea.

I'm not worried that we'll bulldoze the Pyramid tomorrow because of Mr. Kent's statement. However, he joins other other influential opinion-makers like Frank Ricks and Smart City Memphis advocating or discussing its demolition.

For what it's worth, I think the citizens of Memphis love the Pyramid. It amazes me, especially now, when there is no official love for the building, how many ad-hoc images of the Pyramid you see around town - murals, paintings, photos, logos, etc. There's no doubt it should be a better Place -- and I think it can be as well -- but until then it's still in our visual sub-conscious. The Pyramid is part of Memphis, even if it's not yet a Place.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

PPS on Parking

Despite what you may have heard, nobody goes to a place solely because it has parking.
The hang-up on parking is an indicator that a community has no broader vision for itself.

Mr. Kent also made these points at the riverfront placemaking session last Saturday.

Besides asserting parking as a means and not a destination, the essay has practical steps for rationalizing parking without harming the reason for parking -- places.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Big Changes Planned for the Colosseum

From this morning's paper:

Staging a Colosseum Makeover
April 1, 2007

Memphians on trips and vacations have long enjoyed the many diversions available away from the Bluff City -- sightseeing, eating, swimming, drinking, snorkeling, relaxing, walking.

Walking? Well, most of the diversions. An oft-cited complaint from Memphians traveling abroad is the lack of parking in their favorite destinations.

But in an agreement being worked out between officials in Memphis and Rome, this could be a problem relegated to the dustbin of history -- along with an underused part of the Roman Colosseum.

Sources close to the landmark deal, who requested confidentiality, say a tentative plan to convert part of the historic Roman structure to parking has been agreed upon by officials in Memphis and Rome.

The plan was hatched in early 2005 by local business leaders after a recent trip to Rome turned inconvenient. Sensing an opportunity, they enlisted the support of the mayors of Memphis and Shelby County, who quickly put together a blue-ribbon working group of local business, political and cultural leaders. A study was commissioned which predicted a 21.7% increase in visits of Memphians to Rome if the parking situation improved. The study also pinpointed the Colosseum, centrally located and mostly underused, as an excellent choice for a new parking facility.

That was all the working group needed to hear. They immediately began discussions with elected officials in Rome, hoping to have a deal in place by the end of 2006. But the talks hit an immediate roadblock. Citing strong citizen opposition, the Italian delegation was reluctant to convert the landmark Colosseum to parking.

"This was a make-or-break time for the deal" says one source close to the discussions. "If we couldn't get Rome's Mayor and other influential politicians on-board, the deal wasn't going to happen." The working group knew that the whole plan was in danger if they didn't act -- and act decisively.

They flew the Roman officials to Memphis in William Tanner's private jet for further discussions. After a week of wining, dining and meetings with officials of local government, the Romans were persuaded.

"It makes sense", says local developer James Sheltie. "Rome becomes a much more sought after destination if the parking situation improves. This is a win-win for the citizens of Memphis and Rome." In fact, in an internal Regional Chamber survey, 50% of Memphis businessmen polled said they would return to Rome if the parking situation improved, 25% indicated that they would return either way, and 15% stated that parking had soured them on Rome permanently (the other 10% were undecided).

The plan calls for a small percentage of the Colosseum to be demolished to allow entry and exit for the new parking facility. While Roman preservation groups have vigorously opposed the plan, officials note that over 70% of the existing structure will be retained. "This is a great plan that addresses both convenience and history. Over 70% of the existing building will be there for the citizens of Rome and Memphis to enjoy indefinitely" says the working group's land-use consultant Zee McGarrett.

Others note ominously that if this plan doesn't go through, complete demolition could be the next step for the Colosseum. "The Mayors of Rome and Memphis have made it clear that convenient parking for Memphians is a major priority of both cities. I don't think that's going to change" says one source close to the plan.

Demolition is to begin next month, with construction of the parking facility to follow immediately afterwards. Parking in the new structure should begin in early 2008.

What can I say? I'm speechless.

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