Monday, May 28, 2007

Memphis the Good, Part 05252007

I wanted to point out a couple of things I witnessed on my way to and from the Memphis Zombie March Friday evening.
  • Walking from my car, dressed as an aforementioned zombie (blood dripping down my suit), trying to get in character (staring blankly, slight limp in walk) , I heard someone start yelling, "Sir! Sir!" Didn't think anything of it until a gentleman ran up behind me. "Sir, are you okay?" I turned, with my zombified makeup on and I think right away he knew it was a gag. "I'm going to the Zombie Walk" pointing in the direction of the Old Daisy. He looked like he he'd been had. I was pleased that my method zombie, from the distance at least, could fool someone. But I also began to feel sorry that the gentleman had to feel foolish to help someone he thought was in need. He did the right thing, the good thing, and he should be proud of doing it. I hope the false alarm doesn't keep him from doing the right thing again.

  • Riding the Trolley down Main Street later, we stopped at the Marriott to pick up some tourists -- a large family. The trolley driver/conductor patiently helped them insert their 3-day pass cards and gave them some good advice about where they could eat (the Majestic, or the restaurants on Union and Second). One of their party, an elderly lady in a wheelchair, had to take the lift to get in the Trolley. However, when the driver tried to turn the switch to make the lift rise, it was stuck. He patiently worked on it for a few minutes. When it still wouldn't ascend, he called headquarters. I thought, "uh oh, we could be here for a while." Although the lady offered to hold the back of the trolley and let them pull her, the driver kept assuring her, "we're not going anywhere. We'll get you on." And they did, quickly. The MATA crew showed up in < 5 minutes and fixed the problem in < 1. The lady got on and they were on their way to eat.

    The driver and the MATA crew were just doing their job. But doing it with such professionalism, efficiency, patience and courtesy, for such a vulnerable and impressionable group as those visitors, deserves to be remembered.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Support Your Local Zombie

Upcoming events:
  1. If you haven't heard about the Memphis Zombie March, they may have already eaten your anchorman. If you are that last lonely fast-moving soul on Earth, here's some philosophical background on why the not-quite-dead-not-quite-alive feel it necessary to wander aimfully through the streets of downtown Memphis in search of brains, beers and condos.

  2. On Friday and Saturday night, May 26-27
    What: CITYCitycity, a multi-media celebration of Memphis art & music

    When: Friday, May 25 thru Sunday, May 27

    Opening festivities Fri & Sat nights from 7 - 11 pm

    Where: Monty Shane Gallery in the heart of Cooper-Young

    Co-sponsored by Denise Parkinson, city council candidate for Dist. 5 and the Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp (

    For more info contact: 276-0346

  3. Finally, as promised, here are the details on the next (last?) two Fairgrounds redevelopment meetings:
    Thursday, May 31, 2007
    Orange Mound Senior Services Center
    2590 Park Avenue
    Memphis, TN 38114
    6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

    Thursday, June 14, 2007
    First Congregational Church
    1000 S. Cooper Street
    Memphis, TN 38104
    6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Neighborfest at Idlewild Elementary

Idlewild Elementary School is hosting NeighborFest this Saturday to show itself off to its neighborhood and its city. This is a great chance to tour the school and meet with the students, teachers, administrators and parents who make up the school. If you're not in the district, it is an optional school.

Truth in Spamming: my son attends Idlewild.

In 1st grade, he has learned about schemas, deciduous trees and Van Gogh, begun preparing for geometry and for algebra, and completed 6 reports which included oral presentations. Although Idlewild is an optional school, there is no separation of optional classes. Everyone in 1st grade learned and did these things.

Nothing makes me as proud of Memphis as Idlewild does.

It's a diamond, a brilliant future for Memphis.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Where the Greenline Crosses the Wolf

Last week I took a lunchtime hike with Justin to the future Greenline.

The northwestern corner of Shelby Farms.
Justin crosses the Wolf.

The Wolf River from the bridge, looking south toward Walnut Grove.

The eastern end of the bridge elevated over a Shelby Farms path.

I've lived or worked around the corner from this place for much of my life and never knew how beautiful it is.

Does anyone know the status of the Greenline?

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Quotes of the Month

"Memphis has a virus. They seem to think new is always better than old. Tear it down. Put something else up."

Juile Gaskill,
the wife of William Gaskill, the architect of the still-standing Liberty Bowl. Mrs. Gaskill was quoted by the Memphis Flyer's Bianca Phillips in an article on the new stadium, old stadium, domed stadium.

"As prospects improve, perhaps you could scout artists further North up Main St; then, once the revitalization is complete, you can spit them out in a completely different part of town--say South Memphis--and start all over again. Or, just send them to death camps."

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Passion or Speculation: The Chicago Pizza Factory

I think the building on Madison known as the Chicago Pizza Factory (named for its last tenant) has been empty since the early 80's. Even for Memphis' storied desolation, this is amazing. Ryan at My Midtown Memphis, may have uncovered a reason (see the bottom of the post).

I've always liked that building's courtyard. It's directly on Madison, it's got low, defining walls that allow views in and out (for people watching) and it's shaded by a number of deciduous trees. And despite being empty for so long, the building and courtyard seem to be in good shape.

It's a great space. A great hang-out space.

I had thought it was unoccupied since the CPF because Memphis was fickle about outdoor spaces. That has changed, hopefully permanently, but that space remains empty. In a relatively robust area of Memphis.

Maybe it is passion that's kept it empty.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Ornamental Utility along Main Street

Some details I noticed walking down Main, between City Hall and the Orpheum a couple of weeks ago.

A drain cover in front of City Hall.

Rainwater runoff grates along the trolley tracks.

The 70's M looking classic as part of the tree planter grates.

The Gates of Memphis hereby declares a visual fiat: everything we build in this majestic city should aspire to the greatness of the Memphis-Shelby County drain cover.

This is attainable.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Thoughts and Notes on a Fairgrounds Redevelopment Meeting

which was held at CBU last Tuesday night.

    Fairgrounds Gates during the Mid-South Fair
  1. The Mayor's vision for a new stadium is going to swallow the redevelopment's good will and ideas. There was a lot of emotion, if not anger, directed at the idea during the meeting, using up maybe 75% of the Q&A, with 80-90% of the audience against a new stadium.

    Despite the acrimony, City Chief Financial Officer Robert Lipscomb graciously went out of his way to introduce the widow of William H. Gaskill (the architect of the present Liberty Bowl) even though she is an opponent of a new stadium.

  2. Fairview Junior High, building and institution, seems secure thanks to the City School's decision to renovate it. It does give me pause that the magnificent Fairview would otherwise be expendable in a redevelopment plan that uses adjectives like best and highest and historic.

    A save is a save, but beware if MCS change their mind.

  3. The Salvation Army has already begun designing the Kroc Center at the Fairgrounds, and with it a troubling detail: Kroc Center's parking lot will front East Parkway. Although there will be a wall, the development will point a surface parking lot toward East Parkway. East Parkway!

    This inaugural development will set the tone for the rest of the Fairgrounds. If it stinks -- if it's ugly, or suburban, or completely out of character for the area -- it could be off to the races for bottom-feeding real-estate developers. For 30 years crappy developers and their henchman will say "it's built to the standard set by the Kroc Center". On the other hand, if it's a high quality design and use of space, it will be bottom-feeder repellent, and an inspiration to everyone else.

    Yet there are no architectural guidelines or restrictions to guide it. The architectural gurus for the fairgrounds haven't even seen the Kroc Center plans.

    Despite this substantial visual void, 2 different citizens knew what they wanted: they asked the redevelopment committee to recreate the lost Shelby County Building (see below). Here, here!
  4. The Fairgrounds and the Shelby County Building: we can rebuild them
  5. County Commissioner and Save Libertyland member Steve Mulroy made an strong plea for the redevelopment committee to incorporate the Carousel and the Zippin Pippin in the plans. He pointed out Coney Island's redevelopment had made room for the Cyclone.

  6. The meeting concluded as all our meetings should -- with visions of fantastic Memphis. Sonny Bauman, sports and hotel entrepeneur, presented William Gaskill's circa 1970s vision for a domed Liberty Bowl.

    proposed model for Bono's glasses
The redevelopment committee is going to have 2 more public meetings. When I get the dates I'll pass them along.

By the way, on Wednesday a City Council committee voted against paying for a feasibility study for the new stadium. This has to be a major victory for new stadium opponents.

Updates: for a much more coherent view of the meeting, go to Memphis Magnet.

Also, the Mayor's office appears to be fighting back against the unfunding of the feasibility study. Before the ADA study for the stadium is complete, the city architect (can you believe we have one? Or perhaps it proves my point here) is already telling what the results are going to be.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

5 Ideas for the RDC that won't piss off or prompt lawsuits.


Expanding my point that the Riverfront Development Corporation succeeds best with projects that are details and enhancements, here are 5 they should start work on tomorrow.

    Keep going 'til you hit wrought iron
  1. extend the Bluff Walk under the old bridges to the National Ornamental Metal Museum.

  2. extend the Bluff Walk over the Mississippi on the old Harahan Bridge.the old roadway of the Harahan Bridge
    Before the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge was finished in 1949, automobiles had to cross the River at Memphis on the cantilevered sides of the Harahan Bridge. (for further details, check out Steve Cox's cool Harahan site, including this description of the roadway). The Harahan, which was built as a railroad bridge, and returned exclusively to that after 1949, still has the cantilevered supports, minus the planks that cars drove on. The planks could be added and Bluff Walk could be extended on these supports to Arkansas.

  3. 3. at various points along the riverfront, use the large rocks that line Tom Lee and Greenbelt Park (on Mud Island) to create steps down to the water. A prototype from the Civilian Conservation Corps.
    rocks along the banks of the Mississippi RiverI believe the rocks there for erosion protection, but they're a major obstacle to the River. As steps they will protect and invite.

  4. envision and make the outside of the U.S. Customs House (soon to be the University of Memphis Law School) a public space. It's wide, it's a terminus, it's visually interesting and its market is expanding. This could one of downtown's unique places if its purposes extends beyond entry, exit and passing by.

    U.S Customs House, downtown Memphis
    A outdoor cafe comes easily to mind. Cafe Zero.

    0 mile marker outside the U.S Customs House, downtown MemphisSpecial bonus points if they integrate the fountain area of the Cossitt Library. That area's a neat space, but has never had a use and therefore never had people.

  5. re-envision the Mud Island Auction Street Bridge as an invitation to pedestrians and motorists. It's a problem of details. Like other recently (re)built Memphis bridges, it looks like a freeway overpass from 1965.

    Auction Street Bridge:  Gateway to Banality!When I see something like that, I think, a) I probably can't walk over it; b) there's nothing interesting on the other side.
    The re-envisioning could be as simple as replacing the street lights and railings with designs that announce "Memphis!".

I want to add some stuff about the foot of Beale, the possible-future site of Beale Street Landing, but will post on that later.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Winchester Park/Intown Post-Charrette Report Release

From the UrbanArt Commission mailing list:
Join the Memphis Medical Center, St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral and the UrbanArt Commission for the release of the Post-Charrette Paper.

Learn what has happened, what is happening now and how you can get involved.

4:30 - 6:30 pm, Monday, May 14th St. Mary's Cathedral, 700 Poplar Avenue

For more information or to obtain a copy of the charrette paper call 901-525-0880.
For information on the previous work on the charrette, go to the UrbanArt Commission's charrette site, or to the Knight Program at the University of Miami (who led the charrette). Also, the Knight Program recently published a fairly detailed 12 page post-charrette newsletter in pdf form.

looking east and to the future over Morris Park

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Successes of the Riverfront Development Corporation

Customs House Wall, Memphis PromenadeThis is an easy post, because the successes are listed here.

Given the rancor that follows the RDC, this might read like sarcasm. It's not -- these are real accomplishments that the RDC and Memphis can be proud of.

Each of the projects is a) well-done, b) evolutionary, building on the work begun by many others such as Boss Crump, Paul Coppock, Mayors Hackett and Herenton, Tandy Gilliland, Henry Turley, etc.; c) relatively low-cost; d) a detail of a place, rather than a place itself.

Tom Lee Park is a great success due to many of these details. It's a vibrant, friendly, diverse, connected, beautiful place that gets better all the time, as its trees grow and the Bluff Walk expands. It's a model that already exists, right in front of our eyes. And the RDC has been a big part of that.

How do we extend the success to the riverfront from Beale to Auction? The RDC's big answer has been major projects like Beale Street Landing and the commercial development of the Public Promenade -- probably well-done, but not evolutionary, not low-cost and not details, but major places themselves. Those projects are deviations from the organic recipe that has worked so well for them and the Memphis riverfront, at Tom Lee Park and Mud Island.

Am I being conservative? I am. Let nature and history be the primary shapers of the riverfront, rather than dam-the-Yangtze style visions.

RDC succeeds, and very well, as steward of a more organic vision. They should keep adding Memphis-class details to an universe-class riverfront.

Huling Avenue Steps, Memphis Riverfront

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