Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Let's Help Blind Mississippi Morris

From June West at Memphis Heritage:

Let's Help Blind Mississippi Morris

Project Overview
As some of you know, on July 11 a meeting was held at the County Commission committee room to discuss issues related to the home of Blind Mississippi Morris. Mr. Morris' home is in need of much repair. Dr. George Flinn brought Morris' plight to our attention and has been instrumental in fundraising and continues to secure monetary pledges. Help has come from many sources inculding Memphis Heritage. Thanks so much to all of your for your willingness to help and be a part of this worthwhile event!

Project Clean-Up
Memphis Heritage has agreed to lead a clean up effort including the attic, basement and yard. The day for this clean up is Sat. August 11 from 9 am till 2pm. We will meet on the property at 1156 Chelsea. While Memphis Heritage has agreed to take the lead, we are asking for volunteers from the various organizations who expressed interest in helping to participate in the clean up. We expect to complete the clean up in one day if we have enough hands.

If you or your group can get involved with this event on Sat. August 11, email jwest@memphisheritage.org or call the MHI offices at 901.272.2727.
We need all the person power we can muster.

Thanks to all of you that have been a part of this terrific cause.


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Monday, July 30, 2007

The Mark of Lantana

I know, they're not LantanaLantana Projects recently had a couple of really interesting posts on their blog about guerrilla gardening. First they posted a how-to, followed by visual how-to about encasing lantana seeds in a clay or mud projectile, flinging them into an empty lot around Memphis and waiting for your guerilla garden to grow. Wonderful!

If Lantana had their very own breed of Lantana we'd know "Lantana is here" when the guerilla landscape blooms.

They've also had some great discussions about the the UM Graffiti Art project. My thoughts, coming from an uneducated perspective: 1) I like it -- the more public art the better; 2) the fact that there were no artists of color should no less be a problem if it were some other form than graffiti art; 3) if someone shows up tonight and paints heroic images of Che Guevara and Herman Morris on top of the original works, or a tableau depicting the historic exploitation of workers at the hands of multinational athletic departments, should the new artist be in trouble? Have they destroyed or mutilated the original work, or have they brought it closer to perfection?

Finally, Smart City Memphis' Tom Jones, guest-blogging on the CEOs for Cities blog, posted a great article about Lantana. My only comment is Lantana's own post about this attention was titled "Lantana Projects Featured Nationally." Hopefully the attention will bring new audiences, new artists, new funding, but that's about audience size, not geographic scope of audience. The scope has existed as long their website. Lantana is featured nationally -- internationally -- there all the time.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

University of Memphis Gets Professional Architecture Program

Gate, architectural drawing of the Beaux-Arts school in Paris.The Memphis Business Journal reports that the University of Memphis has received approval from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission for its Masters of Architecture program, which will begin in Fall 2008. For more details, see THEC's pdf recommendation (which lists the start date as Fall 2007, but that document's pre-approval) or my earlier post on the program.

This is a great day for design in Memphis. Congratulations to chair Michael Hagge and the U of M program.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

On Trolls and the Memphis City Schools

As a Memphis City School parent and someone who works with MCS grads all the time, I wanted to say this:

considering the amount of venomous derision that is spewed at their education by members of the community who (I suspect) have nothing to do with the schools, MCS children are universe-class overachievers.

Problems, there are lots of them. We have to solve them. We can solve them.

But anyone who is so smug and complacent that they tear down children who are working and learning, should take heed.

Because in a generation the products of MCS, wonderfully unaware that they're supposed to be idiots, who have kept learning, have kept working, will have zipped past any and everyone who has staked their self-worth and gauged their competition on today's status quo.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Someone turn on Memphis Music!

The web presence for the Memphis and Shelby County Music Commission and Memphis Music Foundation has been down for over a week. A week!

I called them a week ago to tell them it was down. There was nobody there No one answered, so I left a message.

Big friggin' deal, you say. I say, yes, big friggin' deal.

Do a web search for "Memphis music".
If organizations that have financial support from the City, the County and Memphis Tomorrow can't keep a simple website running, all the press releases and fundraising and branding and marketing in the world will not make them even a local player in a digital, connected world. And they make Memphis laughable if we ordain them leaders.

Often missed as we dash between the brother poles of press release hype and disfunked reality -- Memphis' creativity.

Update: Slight correction. When I called the Foundation/Commission, I got their voice mail. They may have been there. I don't know.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Memphis' Evil Twin Sister City?

When I opened this Wired article, about the building of a 70-story skyscraper on the waterfront in St. Petersburg, something looked very familiar. Half a second later, I figured it out.

The camera angles of the visualizations, the buildings towering alone over the waterfront, the slope of the low-rise roofs.

And there's more. From the article:
At 72 stories, the new headquarters for Russia's state-run gas company will tower over St. Petersburg. And, yes, the Gazprom building — part of a complex to include a sports center, theater, and cafés — has its critics. They note that, at 1,300 feet, it's a touch tall for a 300-year-old city of church spires and canals. Not that such carping hinders progress in neo-authoritarian Russia. Only vigorous protest kept the city from funding the entire project, and the liberal Yabloko party was barred from recent elections for opposing it.
When I'm pissed off, I will call Memfograd "neo-authoritarian Memphis", or "the neo-authoritarian Bluff City".

(There might be value in finding not only new models of progress but also new models of dysfunctionality. Looking at the problem from a drastically different angle might -- might! -- give our civic narrative a fresh new twist.)

By the way, this is not a commentary on either Beale Street Landing or One Beale. I just found the images similar.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

2007 Neighborhood Leadership Conference

MLGW is hosting the 2007 Neighborhood Leadership Conference, "Protecting Yourself and Your Neighborhood" on Friday, August 3, 2007 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at its Training and Development Facilities, 4949 Raleigh LaGrange Road.

Sessions include "Reclaiming Neglected and Abandoned Properties", "Future Leadership - Generation X, Y and Next" and "Using Technology".

Download the conference brochure for more information.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

There's a Hole in the Heart of the Arts

Here is the Heart of the Arts.

Visit Heart of the ArtsAnd here is the Hole in the Heart of the Arts.

Hole in the Heart of the Arts
Yes, I'm talking about my old arch-nemesis -- the Overton Square big-ass parking lot.

It's an asphalt tarmac big enough (and perhaps decreated) for a Wal-Mart, as artless as Midtown gets. It mocks the idea of a pedestrian arts district. It and its smaller brethren across Madison have made Overton Square into a convenience store.

It destroys the energy, leaks the life, out of the Heart of the Arts.

If HotA is to be more than marketing website, if it's to be a real Arts district based on pedestrian proximity to its great organizations, then that Hole must be torn up.

HotA has a great concept with its plans/hopes/dreams for a mini-greenway between Overton Park and Overton Square. And a special connection needs a special space as destination.

Dig up that asphalt and smush it into public art.

Fill the Hole.

Update: bad form -- didn't mention my source for this info. It was the recent edition of the Cooper Young Lamplighter. I just discovered it was online so you can read the article about the Heart of the Arts launch there. That's where I saw mention of the greenway.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Eyesalve of Crosstown

Tossed in with the very good news that Andy Cates has an option to purchase Sears Crosstown is CA reporter Amos Maki's second reference to the building as an "eyesore".
The 1.4 million-square-foot Crosstown building has been a Midtown eyesore since it closed in 1993.
And here's the first reference.

Mr. Maki isn't alone. Michael Finger in the Memphis Flyer article "Eyesores" included not only Sears Crosstown, but the Chisca Hotel, the Rhodes Jennings Building, and the Sterick Building in the list. Devin Greaney echoes Finger, calling the Rhodes Jennings Building an "eyesore" in the June issue of Downtowner Magazine.

They're using a pejorative, loaded term to dis-scribe historic but empty buildings. Buildings whose power and energy and beauty shines through their present state of use and, sometimes, maintenance.

If we believe Sears Crosstown is an eyesore, how can we begin to describe the butt-ugly banality that is the Holiday Inn - University of Memphis? The eyesearing surface parking lots that pockmark our urban landscape? The clear cut lots that deface Memphis' majestic arbor?

No, Mr. Maki is wrong -- Sears Crosstown soothes the eyes. Whether you're standing before its magnificent mass on Watkins, or viewing it from the Auction Street Bridge, or the top of the Peabody, or from the ferris wheel at the Mid-South Fair (through 2008!), it is a salve for the black eyes we get every day from the bottom-fed abominations that destroy Memphis natural, historic and man-made beauty.

When a good writer of our paper of note can offhandedly dis-scribe that beautiful building as an "eyesore", is it any wonder that we have gangs of yahoos cruising Memphis on top of bulldozers?

Sears Crosstown from the Auction Street Bridge, Mud Island

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sam Phillips Center for Independent Music: Where?

I don't know how far they have gotten with the Sam Phillips Center for Independent Music, but my hope is that they will put it in a storefront in a busy and diverse part of Memphis. The website mentions that the Center will be in partnership with the University of Memphis, which is great, as long as they don't bury it on the campus somewhere.

The Highland Strip would be good. It's near the campus but still part of the greater community with lots of foot traffic. If Newby's hadn't expanded into it, the neighborhood movie house would have been an excellent location, since converted neighborhood movie houses have a great history in Memphis music. But certainly there's a place that the Center could use very well on the Strip.

The talented children of Memphis should see the Center, so they can dream. And they should walk in, so they can begin the dream.

It shouldn't be an institution that exists to fundraise and issue press releases. It should be a Center of creation.

Update: cannot establish a connection to Memphis Music! As fearlessvk comments, the links above, which point to the Memphis Music Foundation/Music Commission's website http://www.memphismusic.org, are unavailable. Their website has been unreachable for 2 days. I called them yesterday to let them know, if they didn't already know, and got an an answering machine. Left a message "uh, your website is down".

A day and a half later it still is. 'Til it becomes available, here's the Google cached copy of the page.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Along the Banks of Mud Island Harbor

I saw these blocks lying on the eastern side of the Mud Island Harbor during a kayak tour Saturday.

compressed metal blocks on the eastern side of Mud Island Harbor
compressed metal blocks on the eastern side of Mud Island Harbor
They seem to be formed from compressed autos or industrial metal, and they look like they've been there a long time. Maybe they were dumped there, or were put there as an alternative form of bank stabilizer.

Their setting, mangling and aging have given them a cool organic texture.

compressed metal blocks on the eastern side of Mud Island Harbor
compressed metal blocks on the eastern side of Mud Island Harbor
Hopefully more soon on the excursion.

In the meantime, cogitate on this: is there an architectural aesthetic of the Mississippi River? Something that doesn't ignore or try to civilize its mud, its vegetation, its stages, its power -- it embraces them? To work, the aesthetic has to touch the River, not stop yards away, where it's safe.

Beale Street Landing might provide this, but are there any that already exist?

approaching eastern side of Mud Island Harbor

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Questions Before We Sell Memphis Networx

Do the assets of Memphis Networx have any special potential to make Memphis a connected city? That is, if we want to provide cheap or free broadband access to our citizens (we should!), do these assets represent a big prepaid head start, or do other municipal broadband opportunities exist that would cost little more than what it would take to maintain Memphis Networx?

Are we giving away the family jewels by selling it, or has this type of infrastructure become such a commodity that it would be cheaper to sell the network, and purchase/rent any services back from an efficiently run company?

Right now, Memphis Networx feels like so many other major civic projects.
  1. vision vagueness,
  2. public relations hype,
  3. operational secrecy,
  4. underwhelming results,
  5. abandonment,
  6. repeat.
Eventually we'll have to work on 1-3; 4, however, can happen with the best laid plans. But 4 is where we have to be the most creative, to think as much like an artist as a businessman and reimagine the amplifier, before jumping straight to 5.

Abandonment may be the best path, but it should not be hasty and definitely not a consequence of its failure to fulfill vague and overblown expectations.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Memphis is a Hole in the Wall

detail from Peabody School front entranceThe children of Memphis are brilliant.

They can do anything. They can learn anything. They can create anything.

Because they can, they should have access to the knowledge of everything. All the time.

Memphis is a Hole in the Wall.

The Hole in the Wall Experiment

In 1999 New Delhi businessman Sugata Mitra installed a public Internet-connected computer in a wall that separated his company from a nearby slum. He put it in a hole in the wall as an experiment in public use, since the wall and computer faced a slum.
What he discovered was that the most avid users of the machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net. Some of the other things they learned, Mitra says, astonished him.
Mitra points this out cautiously in a 2000 interview with Business Week:
Q: What does it mean? What does it say for the potential of these slum kids? After all, being able to download music isn't enough to get them a job.
I don't wish to claim that this shows anything more or less than what it has shown, which is that curious kids in groups can train themselves to operate a computer at a basic level. In doing so, they also can get a generally good idea about the nature of browsing and the nature of the Internet.... And, therefore, if they view these things as worth learning, no formal infrastructure is needed [to teach them].

But after describing an added experiment in teaching Physics, he expands the possibilities:
That's not a wow for the children, it's a wow for the Internet. It shows you what it's capable of. The slum children don't have physics teachers. But if I could make them curious enough, then all the content they need is out there. The greatest expert on earth on viscosity probably has his papers up there on the Web somewhere. Creating content is not what's important. What is important is infrastructure and access.... The teacher's job is very simple. It's to help the children ask the right questions.

Q: Are you saying that if we put computers in all the slums, slum kids could become literate on their own?
I'm saying that, in situations where we cannot intervene very frequently, you can multiply the effectiveness of 10 teachers by 100- or 1,000-fold if you give children access to the Internet.
This isn't just computer skills. It's the possibility of radically transforming education. Not schools, but how, where, when and what people learn. It could be where the printing press meets electrification.

So how can we fill Memphis' Hole in the Wall?

We fill it now with the computers we place in all our libraries and schools. We can fill it even further with One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and municipal wi-fi.

One Laptop Per Child

Although popularly known as the organization behind the $100 laptop, OLPC considers itself "an education project, not a laptop project." Their educational proposition:
It is critically important to adequately educate all the children of the emerging world. Simply doing more of the same is no longer enough, if it ever was. If their citizens are to benefit, as they should from the spread of the technology-based, global information economy, these nations must rethink the old top-down classroom paradigm, and replace it with a dynamic learning model that leverages the children themselves, turning them into “teachers” as well as "learners.” The tool with which to unlock their enormous potential is the XO. Put this ultra-low-cost, powerful, rugged and versatile laptop in their hands, and the kids will do the rest.

More from their mission:

XO embodies the theories of constructionism first developed by MIT Media Lab Professor Seymour Papert in the 1960s, and later elaborated upon by Alan Kay, complemented by the principles articulated by Nicholas Negroponte in his book, Being Digital.

Extensively field-tested and validated among some of the poorest and most remote populations on earth, constructionism emphasizes what Papert calls “learning learning” as the fundamental educational experience. A computer uniquely fosters learning learning by allowing children to “think about thinking”, in ways that are otherwise impossible. Using the XO as both their window on the world, as well as a highly programmable tool for exploring it, children in emerging nations will be opened to both illimitable knowledge and to their own creative and problem-solving potential.

This is not about welding a new tool on to our educational system.

Municipal Wi-Fi

Access to the Internet is a fundamental part of the Hole in the Wall experiment. Connection is a core principle of OLPC.

The connectivity will be as ubiquitous as the formal or informal learning environment permits. We are proposing a new kind of school, an “expanded school” which grows well beyond the walls of the classroom. And last but not least this connectivity ensures a dialogue among generations, nations and cultures. Every language will be spoken in the OLPC network.

We need ubiquitous connection if we're to fill Memphis' Hole in the Wall. The OLPC laptops build a mesh network, even when turned off, providing neighborhood connectivity. If even one is connected to the Internet, the neighborhood mesh connects them all. Muni wifi is the surest way to connect the mesh and our children to the knowledge of the Internet so they can learn and build upon it.

It wasn't long ago that muni wi-fi would have been a tube dream -- the cost would have been too great. But the cost of the infrastructure and bandwidth decreases per second. Plus, we have an advantage by slowly and belatedly adopting technology -- its cost drops rapidly as the tech spreads beyond early adopters, becoming more of a interchangeable commodity and less of a proprietary gadget.

A commodity wouldn't seem to give Memphis a competitive advantage. Untrue! Memphis biggest competitor, foe, opponent, enemy, has always been Memphis. Our embrace of ignorance, fear, limits, and destruction (with an occasional manic swing to desperately ameliorative civic boosterism) is the real competition.

Commoditizing education and connection gives us great advantage over this competitor

This could be an application of low-cost and connected technology to Memphis' creative and human possibility.

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