Sunday, September 30, 2007

Strings Now Minus Things

What I'd heard about the redevelopment of the Strings and Things building on Madison sounded great -- until today. Passing by I noticed that they've bulldozed part of the original building, the covered parking lot.

Now, they may be planning on building a new building in the old footprint, or perhaps fill it with a very developed people space (as opposed to a car space) like the walled beer garden that My Midtown Memphis mentions. But Mike, commenting on the My Midtown Memphis post says that "most of this will become parking."

Please God, don't tell me they've torn down an existing parking garage in order to "build" a surface parking lot. A parking garage that used the original building.

We'll see if God tells me. If anyone else has any special knowledge, let us know.

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What's wrong with this picture?

Condos on Talbot Street, downtown MemphisI had originally called it suburban, but I didn't like my dismissing a place (see Mary Cashiola's Flyer article for my misgivings). I could also call it cheap, but, at this point, given the technologies available to us, good design shouldn't cost us more than bad design, although in this case it may have. So I'll just call it wrong.

I think it's either the windows (particularly the double windows), the landscaping or a combination of both.

Bad windows really hurt a lot of otherwise good buildings.

Also, if you're going to landscape it like that, why have an offset from the sidewalk at all? It's dead space -- neither interesting nor useful.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007


Gonerfest 4 poster, corner of Cooper and Young, MemphisIs Gonerfest the creative intersection of networks and place?

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Blessed Stump of Seattle Street

The Blessed Stump of Seattle StreetI saw this very beautiful stump while checking out the Seattle Street project's open houses last Sunday.

It's a prime target for guerilla gardening, although the guerilla may have to empty a bag of soil in it first.

Jesus approves this stump for guerilla gardening

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Happy OneWebDay!

Today, Saturday, is OneWebDay, a celebration of online life.

For my part of the general merriment, I want to recognize several Memphis events and organizations who've used the web to make something happen, something nearly impossible without the web.

  • The Zombie Walk. Brought a huge group of people together for bloody public theater. TheoGeo, one of its principals organizers, wrote soon after:
    One of these days maybe I'll write about how MySpace was the driving force behind the huge turnout, as opposed to more traditional means of advertising (we did both, but the vast majority of people came because of MySpace).
  • Memphis Rock 'n Romp. Recurring huge turnouts made possible by web-savvy organizers using simple/free tools.

  • Memphis Digital Conversation. Not only did citizens ask the questions, all the Mayoral candidates answered. And everyone can see the results. You don't need a studio audience, or a studio, to make this happen.

  • Friends for Our Riverfront. They weren't able to stop funding for Beale Street Landing but controlled the conversation (how many times did we hear BSL referred to as a "boat dock") through their blogsite and library. To this day, you can learn more about Beale Street Landing from FfOR's website than you can from its sponsor, the Riverfront Development Corp. Dollar for dollar FfOR is the most effective non-profit in Memphis.

  • Smart City Memphis. Unique among Memphis' establishment for not only saying publicly what they believe but allowing people to talk back -- to have a conversation. Online. For the world to see and read and sometimes angrily disagree with. Beautiful.

  • The Memphis Flyer. They've successfully melded their offline and online presence in an almost textbook fashion (as the text is written by my favorite web guru).

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Greenlines and Planning: A Brief Conversation with Mary Wilder

This is an email conversation I had with Mary Wilder, citizen, activist, former interim State Representative and present candidate for City Council. It is not an endorsement. Picking candidates is an exercise I leave for the reader and myself.

What part did you play in the establishment of the Vollintine-Evergreen Greenline?

I started gardening up on the space before VECA owned it. Several other neighbors started mowing the grass. Then VECA got the NPI grant. I was the coordinator working with a committee of volunteers. Bob Schneider and I were the ones to negotiate the purchase of the V&E Greenline from CSX in 1996.

How far towards Downtown and towards Raleigh does the old railroad right of way extend past the VE Greenline? Does the western end extend past the Sears Crosstown and I-240? Does the eastern end extend to the proposed Wolf River Greenway?

The Greenline is the old M&O then L&N then CSX. It was the second oldest rail line in Memphis stated by Robertson Top in 1856. It ran from downtown where the MATA station is now out to Raleigh Springs.

It is abandoned from St. Jude’s downtown out towards Raleigh/Barlett. St Jude’s has purchased sections and built across it. Boral Brick on Hollywood still uses a section of the rail line.

Have there been any efforts to extend it in either direction?

When it was abandoned in 1983 VECA asked the city to buy the rail line for a bike trail. They were not interested. At present I don’t know of any effort to secure/purchase the rest of the abandoned line.

I see from the VE Greenline web site that that greenline was purchased from CSX Railroad. CSX is also the railroad that owns the right-of-way for proposed Memphis Greenline. There's been a lot of talk that CSX's asking price is much too high for that right-of-way. Are you seeing a difference in CSX's price or attitude with the Memphis Greenline than with the VE Greenline?

I don’t know if there is a difference. The price is high for undevelopable land. My question is: has the City or County started the rail banking process with the Federal Transportation Department?

You want to be the new City Councilperson from Super District 9-3. What would you specifically do as Councilwoman to make the Memphis Greenline and Wolf River Greenway a reality?

I would look into the rail banking process at the federal level. I would see what has been done to date and I see what is holding the process up. Is it just money -- the purchase price?

What do you think is a reasonable amount of time to complete either project for at least walking trails?

I don’t know. We just started mowing our area and the cinder bed served as the walk way.

So how would you work with Councilpeople from other parts of the City, parts that may not even have the Greenline or Greenway in them, to make this happen?

The V&E Greenline draws people from around midtown. Greenways are not neighborhood specific. I would try educate council on the economic benefit and the community enhancement of usable green space.

Speaking of green, do you think the laws and enforcement we have in Memphis now are adequate to protect our urban forest? It seems like we still have a lot of clear-cutting going on.

Did we ever get an urban forester? I would want to promote the best urban forest laws and policies we could.

I noticed on your campaign website that you want to re-establish the Planning Commission. Why would this improve on the present Land Use Control Board and other planning organizations and systems?

Land Use Control is not a Planning Board. It is a zoning board to review land use in context of existing zoning or approve zoning changes. A Planning Commission is a citizen, government, business based policy board or commission that in conjunction with a planning staff (OPD)
develop the long range growth plans for the City. These plans then become ordinances that guide the development of the city. We are developing now in a spot zone method with no guidance from a legislative Growth Plan.

I see. Would there be a "judicial" compliment to the Planning Commission -- a place for interpretation and exceptions and appeals? I'm probably blinded by the one-off disasters of the LUCB, but it feels like the exceptions granted are where we get killed.

Normally-judicial is judicial, and goes to court. The Landmarks ordinance is written that way but City Council has given themselves the judicial role. Until that is challenged in court, City Council has placed itself in that judicial review role, which is why they spend 75% of their time on land use issues.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Filmmaking and Architecture this Weekend

Architecture: The (rescheduled) AIA Chalk Art Festival

The Downtown Chalk Art Festival will be held this Saturday, September 22, 2007 from 9:30 am - 12 noon at the Memphis Farmers Market / Central Station Pavilion 545 S. Main Street.

Memphis Heritage & AIA Memphis are coming together for a fourth year to celebrate architecture and design throughout Memphis. Each September we offer a fun and educational series of activities for the public from hands on activities to lectures.

The festival is free to participants.Competition is limited to the first 50 teams. Competition is limited to the first 50 teams.

Filmmaking: Li'l Film Fest 7

Li'l Film Fest is a quarterly, theme-based film festival, focusing on highlighting our local talent while showcasing interesting happenings around town. Our goal is to encourage and inspire Memphis filmmakers while engaging a local audience in order to strengthen our artistic community.

The Li'l Film Fest (this is the 7th one) is this Saturday (22nd) at 2 p.m. at the MeDiA Co-op, 1000 South Cooper.

Theme: Rhymes With Pelvis
Duration: each film is 5 minutes or less
Prizes: Jury Award ($200)
Audience Choice Award ($200)

Live From Memphis

Neighborhoods: Seattle Street Project Open House

Cooper-Young Development Corp is having an open house Sunday, September 23, 2007, 2PM to 5PM, for the houses they have built on Seattle Street in western Cooper-Young. The addresses

1008 seattle Street
926 Seattle Street
932 Seattle Street

They will have two additional homes available that are under construction as well as the plans and lots for the remaining three.

If you're interested in seeing what my Festival beer purchases and a committed, creative neighborhood can do, you should mark this down for a walk-by. And a house-buy.

Bonus: they're Rozelle House adjacent.

Architecture: An Architectural Treat

FfOR Board member and architect, Jack Tucker will be on hand Sunday, Sept. 23 to share stories about his mentor Fay Jones at the Memphis Heritage/AIA Home Tour of Barry Gildea’s house. The home located at 5715 Sycamore Grove in East Memphis gives us an exciting opportunity to see Jones’s work here in Memphis.

See the Friends for Our Riverfront's post for more information.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

SkateLife Memphis: My Cooper-Young Delusion

Skatelife Memphis is working to build a skate park in Memphis. I propose a location in Cooper-Young.

It's not the Cooper-Young neighborhood itself, but a specific urban space

Google Earth view of total spacethat motivates the delusion. It's just south of the intersection of Central and Cooper.

The primary spaces (A and B) aren't even side by side. They are separated at ground level by Cooper. The formerly abandoned railbed (henceforth known as the skatebed) and the Cooper-Young art trestle (A+B) will join them together.

It will contain this east of Cooper space (whose ramp and pronounced topography gave me the idea in the first place)

space east of Cooper
joined by the elevated skatebed and art trestle, over Cooper, ...

Cooper-Young art trestle
to this space

space west of Cooper(and possibly other spaces (?)) west of Cooper.

I don't know what the status is of space A. The building adjoining may be in active use. Also, the owners of Sully Vans on Cooper may have purchased the rail bed closest to them (there are vans parked on the skatebed in the Google Earth image.)

Space B, west of Cooper, is for sale.

call now!
This and the other lots west of Cooper have lots of trees along the skatebed to the south. These could provide some strong cooling shade in the summer and fall.

So why do I call this a delusion?
  1. SkateLife Memphis has already decided on Mud Island as their preferred location.
  2. I'm not even a skateboarder, skater or skatist!
No matter, all matter -- we still need showmanship of place.

And I love the vision of people rolling back and forth across the trestle, up with the art.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

The Conversation, Joined

From the Memphis Digital Conversation:

The free and informal conversational forum begins at 6:30 p.m. at Love Fellowship Ministries Inc., 4475 South Germantown Road (map), on Tuesday, Sept. 18.

Mediaverse and The Tri-State Defender are sponsors; Tri-State Executive Editor Dr. Karanja Ajanaku will moderate.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Jewels of Memphis: Tennessee Brewery

This is the third part of a conversation I had with June West, Executive Director of Memphis Heritage about the 4 great and threatened buildings of Memphis: the Sterick Building, the Sears Crosstown Building, the Tennessee Brewery and the Chisca Hotel. I've split the conversation into 4 parts for each building in the order above, the reverse order of the apparent threat.

Gates of Memphis: What's the status of the Tennessee Brewery?

June West: At the present time there is a contract on the building.

It's owned by Kevin Norman who has been a lover of preservation and that's one of the reasons he bought the building years ago. He has been wanting to sell it. He obviously wants the right thing done with the building but his interest at this point is marketing the building and selling the building.

There was a group in town from Illinois who had planned the 14-story property. I don't know if you saw that material but they had projected they would tear down a tremendous part of the Brewery and build 14 stories on top. They got approval for the variance in height from Land Use, but they were turned down by the Board of Adjustments for the density. So they were going to fight that and finally that group decided it was just too big a battle and they pulled out.

There is now a contract on the building with a group that I had been working with during that time, who's very interested in purchasing the building and keeping it as is. I say, as is, not ruining the integrity of the original structure, probably using it for commercial /mixed usage, with a fairly good plan. They are also planning, I think, to use what's called the Conservation Easement program, which allows a developer to take a structure that is historic, is on the National Register, or is eligible for the National Register, and say, "because we have the capability of doing this to the building, we would generate revenue". For instance the people who said they'd go 14 stories, obviously they'd increase their square footage, so therefore there's more value. Instead of doing that this new group would say "we know it's been approved to go up 14 stories, but we're not going to do that". You get a tax credit for not doing that to the building. So that is the plan they're now working on, to use the building effectively and get some of that cash up front to help develop it.

So my fingers are crossed, I feel good about the group. It's on the agenda and right now I feel fairly confident about a positive outcome at the Brewery.

If they use it the way they say they're going to use it, they don't really have to get any variances. They'd obviously want to meet with the neighborhood and the people on Tennessee Street. But the usages would be commercial /mixed , which is what that is, so I'm hoping that all will go well.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Memphis Warehouse Revival

The Rozelle House is having their 4th benefit concert this Saturday, September 15:
Quiet will be flying from Portland, Oregon to join forces with Mind at Large (Jake Hendrix), Mongoose, and a few locals for the Memphis Warehouse Revival. For any fans of old school warehouse techno raves, this will be worth the five bucks at the door. You can check out the artists playing by going to their myspace pages, they are in our top friends for the next few weeks.

If you're not a fan of techno, but would like to come out and support the Rozelle Artists Guild, feel free to come out, have a beer, and enjoy the bonfire outside. As always, there will be kegs and five-dollar cups. Starts at 10PM!
A nearby complement to the Cooper Young Festival.

The Rozelle House is a good idea.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Transparency, Accidentally

The argument given in favor of funding a Public Affairs Officer at Juvenile Court:'s important for the court to have some way to communicate with the media...
Ludicrous, given that the court was communicating with the media in giving that reason. Obsolete, given the ubiquitous technological possibilities to communicate with as many people as you want and who want to listen.

Memphis doesn't need any more gatekeepers. Memphis doesn't need gatekeepers anymore. Throw the gates open!

(bonus example: important person communicating without aid of Public Affairs Officer.)

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Little Bitty Land

Libertyland in the 1970s

*A festival for families in honor of Grandparents’ Day*

WHEN: Sunday, September 9, from noon until 7 p.m.

WHERE: Peabody Park, Higbee at Cooper St. in Cooper-Young

FREE food, games, lemonade! Sprinkler-park party!

Bubbles courtesy of IKE’S on Union Avenue!!!

*** Giant Inflatable Waterslide, Moonbounce, and
Dunking Booth courtesy of Event Outfitters, LLC ***

MUSIC in the Vintage Gazebo by:

Miss “T” White
Audra Brown
Greg Hisky
The Puppy Dawgs
Those Darlin’s

Also: Native American Dancing, Clog Dancing, and more!

Brought to you by members of Save Libertyland!, a local non-profit organization working to restore Memphis’s historic parks and bring fun to families and children throughout the Mid-South.

For information, contact Denise Parkinson, 276-0346

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Friday, September 07, 2007

AIA Chalk Art Festival Re-Scheduled

Important Notice From Memphis Heritage & AIA Memphis:
Downtown Chalk Art Festival Moved to Rain Date:

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Due to the high potential for rain Friday night and Saturday morning, the Downtown Chalk Art Festival will be moved to the planned rain date.

AIA Memphis and Memphis Heritage, Inc. hope to see you on September 22!

For more on The Downtown Chalk Art Festival & Architecture Month events visit

Thanks so much for your continuted support!

June West
Executive Director
Memphis Heritage, Inc.
2282 Madison Ave.
Memphis, TN 38104

Heather Baugus
Executive Director
AIA Memphis
8 South Third, Suite 100
Memphis, TN 38103

Memphis Custom House, from last year's AIA Chalk Art Festival

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Antidote for Eminent Ptomaine?

A street in UptownBack in May the CA ran an article (cached copy) about former City Councilman Fred Davis facing eminent domain proceedings. He owned a parcel of land in the area now known as Uptown, and the Memphis Housing Authority was about to start condemnation.

Although Tennessee had passed eminent domain reform after the infamous Kelo case, the reform still ratified as "public use"
(3) The acquisition of property by a housing authority or community development agency to implement an urban renewal or redevelopment plan in a blighted area as authorized by Title 13, Chapter 20, Part 2 or Title 13, Chapter 21, Part 2;
even if the takings were for private benefit (from Tennessee Code, Title 29, Chapter 17, Part 1)

Uptown is such an urban renewal plan.

But there's also a part of the Tennessee code (Title 13, Chapter 20, Part 1) that states:
A housing authority created under this chapter shall not have the power to take by eminent domain private property in an urban renewal area for the purpose of resale, if the owner of same desires to develop such owner's own property and if the designated reuse of the property in the urban renewal plan is such that the owner's parcel can be redeveloped by itself without affecting the objectives of the urban renewal plan as to the owner's parcel or adjoining or adjacent properties thereto, and the owner signs an agreement with the housing authority to abide by the urban renewal plan, in any development thereof. Acts 1972, ch. 711, § 1; T.C.A., § 13-833.]

It sounds to me (see Note A below) that if Mr. Davis were willing to develop his property to meet the objectives of the Uptown project, he could avoid condemnation.

Could this be an owner-and-city-friendly way to redevelop? A means to transform speculative, fallow holdings into productive land without seizing private property? Landowners formerly known as speculators could benefit from the value added by a redevelopment project as long as they were willing to join in the project. The City could provide homeowners and small businesspeople access to capital for improvements on their properties.

The optimistic possibilities assume that redevelopment for the public weal is the objective, and that we don't equate profit maximization for specific private interests with the public weal.

Has anyone ever used this part of the code to avoid condemnation in Uptown? And what is the status of Mr. Davis' case?

Note A: IANAL.

Note B:
Bob's post inspired my title.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Shelby Farms begins Design Competition

Taken from the Yellow Trail on in the Lucius E. Burch Natural Area in Shelby Farms, courtesy of Justin McGregorI saw on the CEOs for Cities blog that the Shelby Farms Conservancy has issued a Request for Qualifications for an Innovative Design Competition.
Up to five finalists will be selected from among the respondents to the RFQ and invited to participate in a 15-week planning and design process. The results of this design process will be presented to the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy Board and also to the public through an exhibit and on an interactive Web site. This design review is intended to generate creative and varied concepts to help design an outstanding Shelby Farms Park for Memphis.

At the conclusion of this process, the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy may select one or more of the participants to continue, or choose to retain none of them.
The deadline for the RFQ is Wednesday, October 10th, 2007, 12:00 Noon.

For those who want to cut to the case, download the RFQ. Also, this post's geo-tags will take you close to the center of the park.

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