Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Where did Memphis Networx Go Wrong?

"The first decision we made, which quite frankly was the most important -- we created a non-profit. It was absolutely critical that we were a non-profit so that the clarity of purpose was just impeccable."

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Monday, June 25, 2007

A Metaphor to Embrace

"For those of you who remain to toil in this precious, precious part of the vineyard, I ask you to see to it that the future holds promise and opportunity for all of God's children."
Carol Johnson

a pixie in a Cooper-Young garden

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Think Globally, Ignore Locally

Jimmy the Predator in Overton Park Woods
3 weeks ago, the story Buyers live large on big lots ran in the Commercial Appeal.

In keeping with trends documented in a U.S. Census report this week, home sizes are expanding dramatically across Greater Memphis.

In Shelby County, the average house built these days is about 3,000 square feet, nearly double what it was in 1974. And nearly 21 percent of all Shelby homes -- new and old -- now have at least four bedrooms, a proportion slightly higher than that for the entire nation.

The growth in home sizes in the Memphis area has come as local governments increased the minimum lot sizes allowed in new developments.

Fast-growing Arlington, for instance, gradually raised its minimum from 8,000 square feet about 10 years ago to 13,000 square feet today. Town recorder and treasurer Cathy Durant said larger lot sizes bring many benefits, including reduced density, which means less noise and traffic congestion.

There's lots of good information about this trend, except -- the story never even mentions the environment, and this trend's possible-to-certain negative effect. It could be 1971, but with big-ass houses!

The story does note the the lack of new affordable houses.

One unwelcome result of the trend, Grant says, is a shortage of new affordable housing for first-time buyers in the immediate Memphis area.

"We cannot offer affordable homes any more," Grant said.

"They're available -- you just have to drive farther out to get to them."

Farther out, but not a whisper of the possibility of going further in.

We have tangible, daily and local evidence of global warming, drought, pollution and the decline of the petroleum supply, yet this local story had none of these words in it:
  • warming
  • drought
  • pollution
  • gasoline or
  • environment
(There was a mention of New Urbanism in Collierville though).

Meanwhile, massive lots and massive new houses on them require:
  • greater deforestation and environmental destruction.
  • greater commutes and attendant consumption of petroleum and production of pollutants, as density decreases
  • expanded infrastructure which requires more deforestation and environmental destruction
  • massive amounts of materials, energy and water to build, heat, cool and maintain
I do understand that the environment wasn't the point of the article; statement of a business trend was. But I think it's analogous to publishing, in the middle of a crime wave, a story about the increase in dropout rates, without mentioning a possible connection between the two. Correction: it's analogous to printing a story about cities and educators intentionally increasing the dropout rate in the middle of an unmentioned crime wave.

I wonder: was this a marketing decision by the CA?

Update: and now a story from this morning's paper about the EPA's raising the Memphis area's pollution standard, "citing worrisome new evidence about health dangers". It was written by the same reporter, Tom Charlier, as the big lots article.

Again I wonder: was it a marketing decision to ignore the environmental effects of massive lots?

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Li'l Film Fest

What I like best about Live from Memphis' Li'l Film Fest: it's read-write, with no barriers to entry for the viewing, and low barriers to entry for the creating. Creativity is the thing.

What I like second best: the viewing is held in the cool Media Co-Op at First Congo.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Another chance to be heard on Beale Street Landing

visualization of Beale Street LandingReceived the following last night from the Friends for our Riverfront:
Although funding was approved for Beale Street Landing, Councilmembers are going to take another look at the project.

In an unprecedented action, Councilmember Dedrick Brittenum has asked that information about the $29.4 million new boat dock be presented to the Council CIP budget committee
this Tuesday (June 19)
at 12:30 p.m.
on the 5th floor of City Hall (125 N. Main).

Brittenum sent letters to those who spoke at the last Council meeting, stating that the public will have an opportunity to speak at the committee meeting.

If you have questions that you’d like answered or comments you’d like to make about the new commercial dock, you may
* attend the meeting Tuesday
* contact Councilmembers

by phone at the Council office, 576-6007(You will be able to leave messages),
by fax at 576-6796,
or by e-mail at:

Councilmembers Sammons, Chumney, and Jones voted against the boat dock. Councilmembers Brittenum, Brown, Ford, Lowery, McCormick, Marshall, and Ware voted for the project. Councilmember Madeleine Cooper Taylor abstained. Councilmember Brent Taylor was absent.

Virginia McLean
President, Friends for Our Riverfront
So if you like Beale Street Landing, or love it, or hate it, or just think the money would be better spent elsewhere, this is one more chance to be heard and to change minds.
historic view of the Memphis Riverfront

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Saving our Shell FAQ, Part 3: Programming the Shell

flyers from old shows at the ShellPart 1: The History of the FLPM
Part 2: The Renovation
Part 3: Programming the Shell

GoM: Will the Friends of the Levitt Pavilion Memphis produce all the shows, or will you be providing a venue for independent producers?

BL: FLPM will produce the 10 week 50 performance free concert series. Other shows outside our season will be available at the Levitt Shell with certain conditions being met. We are currently reviewing what those conditions will be.

GoM: The recent history of the Shell seemed to have a lot of DIY low-cost kind of productions -- Earth Day festivities, band showcases, independently produced theater, etc. Will the Shell still be available for these kind of events?

BL: Most certainly we will make the Levitt Shell available for DIY low-cost kind of productions if they meet the forthcoming conditions. Because the Levitt Shell is located in an urban area, sound levels and the time that the performances are to be staged will be among (but not limited to) the conditions that will be considered by the board of FLPM for events that can be held at the Levitt Shell.

GoM: How can an independent producer contact the Shell to schedule such an event?

Elvis guards the back entrance of the ShellBL: At this time we do not anticipate any events at the Levitt Shell until after our Levitt Concert Series in 2008. We do not have an executive director, but anticipate having one in place in 2007. I would suggest accessing to view the conditions for renting the shell for performances and contacting us. I anticipate the website to be up and running about July 1, 2007.

GoM: How can someone volunteer?

BL: Volunteers will be essential for us to be successful. We cannot stage the Levitt Shell professionally performed 50 free concert series without the help of volunteers. I believe these performances will be driven by volunteers. At this time, you can contact me at 901-333-1359 or (this will change to in July 2007) to be added to a volunteer list.

Unfortunately we will not have any volunteer organizational meetings or events until the fall of 2007 at the earliest. I do encourage getting your name on the list as soon as possible. We will have a volunteer registration on the website by July of 2007.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Saving our Shell FAQ, Part 2: The Renovation

Part 1: The History of the FLPM
Part 2: The Renovation
Part 3: Programming the Shell

GoM: What kind of physical changes do you have planned for the Shell? The
articles last week mentioned the replacement of the wings and removal of the benches.

BL: At present you have identified most of the physical changes planned. We will bring the facility back to the original 1936 footprint size for the most part. We will remove the metal wings, reduce the depth of the stage which will remove approximately 10 ft from the front which now covers the original orchestra pit, remove the bench seating and renovate the backstage areas.
a visualization of the Levitt Shell at Overton ParkWe will replace the current metal wing buildings with much smaller wings that will house the sound and lighting for the facility and allow for theatrical performances.

GoM: Do you have any other physical changes planned?

BL: In addition, we will create lawn seating where the benches are located complete with an irrigation system to insure lush lawn covering for seating and enjoyment, construct a fence on both sides of the stage utilizing the existing wooden bench seating as the primary construction material, and construct a sound barrier fence between the Levitt Shell and the Memphis College of Art utilizing the current concrete bench stanchions as the primary construction material.

We will utilize as much of the existing materials as possible in the renovation in order to be ecologically responsible. In addition we will use sustainable new materials where possible. We want this to be a "green demonstration site" where possible. We will install some seating (approximately 200-400 seats) for handicap, elderly or others who might not want to participate in lawn seating. In addition walkways will be added for easy access to seating areas. Initially, concession areas will not be built into the facility.

We will renovate the existing bathroom facilities adjacent to the stage and along the western border of the facility. Also, the backstage areas will be renovated with performance venue considerations the primary focus but also with facility rentals for other purposes in mind. All renovations will be ADA compliant. We have hired Askew Nixon Ferguson as our architects.

GoM: Is all the seating being removed?

BL: All the existing seating will be removed. We will replace some of the seating which will be on ergonomically more comfortable seating than the bench seating. This seating, which will total 200 to 400 seats, will be placed near the stage and up near the Brooks Museum entrance to the Levitt Shell.

GoM: How will you deal with events that occur after rains and saturated ground?

BL: We have discussed events that will occur after ground saturation. We anticipate that the drainage design will be for the maximum drainage in order for the ground to dry quickly. Having said that, there will be times when the ground will not be completely dry and possibly saturated with moisture.

Currently it is our best guess that we will move concerts indoors if absolutely necessary. These alternate indoor locations are being identified now. Suggestions are welcome.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Saving our Shell FAQ, Part 1: History of the FLPM

This is is part 1 of an email interview with Barry Lichterman, a founder of the Friends of the Levitt Pavilion Memphis, the organization that will renovate, manage, and produce a free concert series at, the Overton Park Shell.

I've broken the interview into 3 parts: Monday: the history of the Friends of the Levitt Pavilion Memphis; Wednesday: the renovation of the Shell; Friday: programming the Shell.

GoM: Were you part of the Save our Shell organization?

BL: Friends of the Levitt Pavilion Memphis, Inc. (FLPM), a 501c3 organization, is not part of Save our Shell (SOS), however we work closely in conjunction with them. Their President, Jerry Brown, is a member of our board of directors.

In addition, Save our Shell's founder and Overton Park Shell's chronicler extraordinaire, David Leonard, is also a member of our board of directors. FLPM acknowledges that without the effort of individuals like Jerry and David and SOS, there would be no Overton Park Shell, now officially the Levitt Shell, to renovate, again make vibrant with musical performances and help build community.

GoM: How did Friends of the Levitt Pavilion Memphis get started?

BL: We started FLPM as a requirement of the Mortimer Levitt Foundation in order to obtain funding to renovate the Overton Park Shell and produce the concert program which is described in the next paragraph.

GoM: How did you learn about and make contact with the Mortimer Levitt Foundation?

BL: How we learned about and made contact with the Mortimer Levitt Foundation is as follows: The Mortimer Levitt Foundation's Vice President, Elizabeth (Liz) Levitt Hirsch, Mortimer Levitt's daughter, had a vision to expand their concert program to other parts of the country. The program which features a 50 concert season performed by professional musicians, free admissions to the concerts, and music under the stars with lawn seating, was started 35 years ago in Westport, CT.

For their first expansion outside Westport, CT, Liz first identified a band shell in the Gold Park in Pasadena, CA that badly needed renovating. The renovation was accomplished through a public private partnership between a newly formed local Pasadena "Friends" organization and the City of Pasadena. Utilizing the concert program from the Westport, CT Levitt Pavilion as a model, the Pasadena "Friends" organization, successfully started their 50 night free concert series which is now in its fifth season.

Approximately three years ago a former Memphian and friend of Liz's, David Troy Francis, performed at the Pasadena Levitt Pavilion. After the performance he was talking with Liz and suggested she research Memphis, TN for her next Levitt Pavilion expansion site. Armed with a referral from another former Memphian living in LA, Liz contacted Katie Smythe Thinnes, founder of New Ballet Ensemble in Memphis, to engage Katie in the project and enlist Katie's help in identifying potential band shell locations in the Memphis area for Liz to research during a planned visit to Memphis.

Katie invited me join the effort. We had lunch at the Brushmark in the Brooks Museum. At the conclusion to lunch walked across the street to the Overton Park Shell and the search for a facility was finished before it began. Liz immediately knew this was the site for the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts in Memphis.

A group of interested volunteers formed FLPM. We secured a public private partnership with the City of Memphis to renovate the Shell. In addition, FLPM has negotiated a management agreement to be the sole managers of the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts at the Overton Park Shell as the facility was recently renamed as part of the management agreement. We hope it will be known simply as the"Levitt Shell" going forward.

Katie Thinnes is one of our most active board members sharing her time talent and resources with us. Also on our board of directors are Thomas Boggs, Martha Ellen Maxwell, Jeff Goldstein, Chuck Blatteis, Joyce Cobb, Kaywin Feldman, Robert Spence, Jeff Nesin, Mimi Phillips, Blanchard Tual, Jerry Brown, David Leonard and Cindy Buchanan, Director of Parks is an ex-officio member.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Greenway 2074!

Budget item from Tuesday's City Council session:
$400,000, reduced from proposed $1 million, to start work on Wolf River Greenway.
Believe it or don't, but I wasn't going to say anything much more about Beale Street Landing until I read that.

We're going to spend $19 million of Memphis' money and $10 million of federal and state money, for a project whose popular support rivals the new stadium. Meanwhile a very popular project, a project that spans the length of the entire city, that will promote our health, recreation, environment and almost certainly our economy, is reduced to 4% of the funding of BSL. Since the project will cost around $27 million in 2007 dollars, we only have to wait 67 years in 2007 appropriations to walk the Greenway.

Beware the new stadium! They'll lead with hype and hope we follow with apathy. And they won't take 67 years to build it.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

4 Problems with Beale Street Landing

visualization of Beale Street Landing
  1. Memphis decays. Beale Street Landing in its pristine condition may have an allure, but what will it look like when the elements -- humidity, moisture, mud, vegetation, heat -- have had their way with it? How will that red paint (is it paint?) look if it's not touched up regularly? What if it has rust, mud streaks? Perhaps it will look like an abandoned piece of farm machinery out in the field. I like decay, so that sounds pretty good to me. But...

  2. Memphis' support for modernist architecture decays even faster. Memphis likes bright shiny new things, and nothing looks brighter and shinier than a newly-minted modernist building. But once it's no longer bright and shiny, once it has heat-warped angles, or chipped paint, or rust stains, Memphis wants to trade it in for the next bright shiny thing and act like it never existed. This is true of non-modernist architecture as well, but there's something about the futurist promise of modernism that disappoints us so quickly as presentist decay sets in.

    Does this mean I don't like modernism? No, I love it. I could be the only person in Memphis who doesn't want to tear down the mid-century Modernist Cossitt Library downtown. It should never have been built on the destruction of the original Romanesque building, but here it is and I like it. The point is, it hasn't wowed Memphis with its new car smell in over 40 years and Memphis treats it worse than an abandoned '78 Chevette. Inserting the incongruously modern Beale Street Landing into our our muddy, green, rusty, classic Riverfront could follow the same arc of municipal love.

  3. You still can't get to Mud Island. A trip to or from the Pyramid remains for trailblazers. And in the renderings I can't see the connections between Tom Lee Park, Beale Street, Jefferson Davis Park/Visitors' Center and Beale Street Landing. A strong supporter of Beale Street Landing, Aaron of SkatelifeMemphis makes this point,
    When the skate park is built we will have a big draw for the downtown and people will start hanging out more at the Landing as they can watch skaters skating just across the river at the River park.
    Or people might be hanging out cursing the fact they can't get to Mud Island. Aaron continues.
    Even more ideally, a bridge going from the Landing to the Skatepark would make a great combination and synergy between the two locales.
    To silence the curses, we'd have to add another capital project, a bridge. $29 million dollars and we still have to float to Mud Island!

    But if we were to instead build the pedestrian drawbridge, along with more modest improvements suggested here and here, we could make the foot of Beale a vortex of connection, rather one more disconnected place.

  4. Civic hype precedes it:

    As the first major piece of the riverfront master plan to be implemented, this project will inevitably become the city’s icon...

    it would be a direct attack on the image of Memphis as a slow-moving, sleepy river town.

    Without this project, it would set us back a number of years.

    We have to have some vision if we are going to be on a par with Atlanta.

    Not as millenial as the hype heralding the Pyramid, but here we go again, overselling.
the architecture of futurist past

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Monday, June 04, 2007

The Foot of Beale: An Alternative

The foot of Beale, at the cobblestones and the Mississippi, is beautiful.

Between the the Mississippi, the bluff, the cobblestones and other man-made details,

it has a very distinctive feel, a Memphis feel -- muddy and green, rough and rusty, classic.

It conjures the past

but creates no more a barrier to the future than Huckleberry Finn does.

Yet the foot of Beale is empty. No people.

Perhaps that's because:
  1. there's no access. It's hard as hell to get from Beale Street, Tom Lee Park, Jefferson Davis Park, the Visitor's Center and Mud Island.

  2. other than the River, nothing else is there.
So how do we solve the first problem, no access? By creating access.
  1. We build stairs descending from the crosswalk at Beale and Riverside.

  2. We provide a Bluffwalk alternate route that, instead of taking you to Riverside, takes you to stairs we build descending to the cobblestones.

  3. We remove the parking lot between the buildings on Front and Riverside. Memphis parking lots do to walkers what Southern prison movie swamps do to bloodhounds -- lose them.

    Presently Gayoso empties into that parking lot...

    and runs straight into a lamppost.

  4. We build stairs at the foot of Gayoso down to Riverside, that lead to a crosswalk, that lead to the cobblestone stairs. Presently you have to climb down an embankment to Riverside, then cross Riverside without a crosswalk. If you make it this far, there are some nice stairs to take you to the cobblestones and the River.
We solved the first problem, you are at the River. What about the second problem: what do you do when you get there?
  1. You walk through, continuing the Bluffwalk or beginning the Wolf River Greenway. If you're coming from the Visitors Center/Jefferson Davis, you walk through on the way to Tom Lee Park; and vice versa, if you're coming through from Tom Lee Park. This might require some ingenious method of pointing walkers from the stairs descending from Tom Lee to the ramp ascending to Jefferson Davis, without modifying the cobblestones, but we can do it.

  2. Go to Mud Island. One of the great ideas brought forward in the last 30 years is the pedestrian bridge spanning the Wolf River Harbor that Denise Scott Brown proposed 20 years ago.
    This will create a major flow of pedestrians down to the River. Kids love bridges. Never, ever underestimate the power of children to enliven Downtown. Here's a photo of a pedestrian drawbridge in the Netherlands.

  3. Go to a restaurant, cafe, riverboat or other vendor moored or located at the foot of Beale. Yes, it's been tried before, it's time to try it again. But if tried again, it can't be tried without fixing the access problem. If it's hard to get there, people will not only not use it, they won't even know about it.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

International Design Contest: Hotel Chisca

Artist apartments and hostel at the Hotel ChiscaThis post is my entry, my suggestion, and could be Memphis' answer (or part thereof):

Transform the beautiful, historic Hotel Chisca into subsidized artist apartments and hostel, and let the artists DIY (Design It Yourself).

This is not your standard rehab. The only contracted work done will be infrastructural -- modernizing the plumbing and HVAC, making sure any structural and safety problems are corrected. The rest is done by the artist residents. The public areas -- hallways, lobbies, etc... -- will be designed by the artists (over the undersight of a resident democratically elected committee). The interiors of the apartments will also be tabula rasa, with no new amenities except for the bare minimum -- stove and refrigerator. By keeping its wrinkles, the Chisca will make an asymetrically perfect match for that other great South Main bookend -- Earnestine and Hazel's.

A percentage of the building will be reserved as hostel for artists touring through Memphis. The weird motel area on the side might be a good place for the hostel, as long as everyone comes and goes through the same entrances. The mix of local and non-local is very important. Perhaps the hostel could be renovated by residents in exchange for further subsidies.

Zombies pass site of the future Ghetto Palms BarThe only non-subsidized parts of the complex will be the Red Hot and Blue Skyway, on the roof, and The Ghetto Palms Bar, on Main Street where the pool was (will be?). This bar will be shaded by boxed Ailanthus -- the Trees of Heaven -- transplanted from the open graves of Memphis' tragic demolitions.

The development would have to be owned and operated by a non-profit foundation, because the temptation would be too great for a private developer to boot the artists once they've enlivened the area.

A question: how would someone identify themselves or be identified as an artist?

Anyway, here's an example, the Hotel Virreyes in Mexico City.

It would make South Main Arts District more its namesake and less a beautiful real estate scheme. And it would give our low-cost, high-energy creativity a home. Anyone who witnessed the Memphis Zombie Walk knows the power of that creativity.

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