Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All Hallows Eve: Ghosts on the Rocks

Memphis RocksThe cobblestones are rocks. No one can deny it. As surely as Graceland is stone, mortar, wood, paint, water, mud and trace amounts of peanut butter and banana, the cobblestones are rocks.

The boys back at the lab won't find anything but rock. Nothing close to the pride of Memphis' founding and commercial ascent, the shame of its brutality and moral decline, the history of its early connection to the River and its lost connection during its dystopic flight eastward. It won't find the ghosts of man, mule and machine that have wandered down to the River's edge and back up to Memphis, or an imagination that conjures those spirits.English Rocks


Happy Hallowe'en. Be safe, befriend the intangible, beware Dickey Drakeller.

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Running Scared 5K

Our race will start at Overton Square and lead runners through the beautiful East End district with a finish in front of our headquarters at Howard Hall. Following the race we invite all participants, sponsors, and neighbors to enjoy our post-race party and costume contest!

To register, go to

A map of the race course.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Strokes

On the day we learn that Memphis is the most sedentary city in the country, I think we need to stare at some pictures on a screen.

This is a view of the Walnut Grove bridge over the Wolf River before construction began on its replacement.

Count the lanes.

And here's a rendering of the replacement.

Count the lanes.

4 to 10. 10!

This is the most excessive example of automobile overcapacity EVER. It's grotesque on its own merits, but more so considering that the City Engineer has fought "squeezing" a bike lane on his monument to obesity.

This is not news, but I hadn't seen the renderings until today. Here's some more information on the project, plus a template for a letter you can send local officials to show your support for bike lanes.

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Drum Circle of Overton Park

Part of the vitality of Overton Park noted by John Branston. Part of the Creator Class noted by John Seely Brown.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Air Guitar Showmanship

And from only in Memphis:

This guy (an interview) is my hero because he's transformed a probable soul-killing job into entertainment for him and us, and attention for his employer.

Plus he's an heir of Kemmons Wilson's commercial roadside showmanship.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Trolley through the River Arts Fest

I'm glad that the Trolley will keep operating during, and right through the middle of, the Fest.

Next year they could put art on the Trolley. Maybe they're doing it this year.

What kind of art could you put on the trolleys? What immediately comes to mind is print advertising, but I don't remember if trolleys have advertising frames, like buses. Also, they could show family-safe digital art in trolley-modded flat panels.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Are We There Yet? Greenline Progress

railbed of the future Memphis Greenline, Shelby Farms, MemphisI had asked a few months ago if anyone knew the status of the Greenline.

Last Saturday I was able to talk to Greater Memphis Greeline board members, Bob "Bob" Schreiber and Syd Lerner at the Vollintine-Evergreen Forest Faire. Here's what I got:

  1. Memphis Community Connector (MCC), which is an acquisition group for the Greenline right-of-way, is negotiating with CSX, the railroad and present owner of the right-of-way, for a rails-to-trails agreement. In a rails-to-trails agreement, the railroad will sell the right-of-way, but the Surface Transportation Board (the federal regulatory agency with jurisdiction over rail restructuring transactions, henceforth known as the STB) will retain authority. This means that the right-of-way could one day be returned to rail service, e.g., light rail.

  2. MCC (later joined by Shelby County) has also petitioned the Surface Transportation Board for exemptions and waivers in preparation for a possible “adverse” abandonment application for the Greenline.

    As I understand it, CSX can undertake a voluntary abandonment or possibly be subject to an adverse abandonment. In the latter case the Surface Transportation "Board does not compel a railroad to abandon its line, but rather approves abandonment, which then, with the shield of the Board’s authority removed as a result of that approval, may be used to compel the railroad to transfer the line under state eminent domain laws or other laws for that purpose. " (from their decision on MCC's petition). So whether the abandonment is voluntary or adverse, the STB must remove their authority before state eminent domain law can apply.

  3. In a letter on September 12, 2007 to the STB (pdf), MCC attorney Nicholas J. DiMichael noted that CSX had filed for voluntary abandonment, then withdrew that filing, then re-instated the filing. He asked that MCC's petition for waiver and exemptions for an adverse abandonment application remain in effect in case CSX changes their mind again. The Board must grant the petition so MCC can file an adverse abandonment application -- just in case CSX doesn't agree to a rails-to-trails agreement or voluntary abandonment .

  4. According to Schreiber and Lerner, CSX is clearing the brush and removing the tracks on the Greenline. They think that this is a good thing as it indicates that CSX at least will voluntarily abandon the line.

  5. On October 10, 2007, the STB ruled on the exemptions and waivers petition, some in favor of the MCC, others not in favor. But from my non-lawyer perspective, it looks as though the adverse abandonment application can proceed, if CSX doesn't negotiate a rails-to-trails agreement and changes its mind about a voluntary abandonment.
After reading through dense and near-inpenetrable rails-to-trails-geekery, a hike from Midtown to Shelby Farms will now seem easy.

Hopefully, you'll get your chance in the not-too-near-term future.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Gates of Memphis White Oak

I Hereby Dedicate Ye The Gates of Memphis White Oak, or Nuttall Oak
Except it might be the Nuttall Oak. Can anyone tell?

I prefer White Oak because a leaf from a Quercus Alba is on the Great and Holy Seal of Memphis.

Memphis City Seal
The tree hopeful came up in my back yard late last summer, and in February I moved it to the front. My neighbors wondered why I planted a stick. But it came alive and has looked healthy all spring and summer, except that it hasn't grown an inch.

White or Nuttall, it's my first step in returning my yard to forest.

The Stupid Gardener says: "it lives, it stays!"

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Toward The River's Edge

In Memphis it seems we either suppress the edge

Under the Mud Island monorail, Wolf River Harbor, Memphis
or ignore it.

along the Wolf River Harbor, Memphis
We pour concrete or stone on top of it,

Mud Island boat launch, Wolf River Harbor, Memphis
we clear cut and mow it,

denuded riverbank, Wolf River Harbor, Memphis
we abandon it.

lost industrial setting, Wolf River Harbor, Memphis
Maybe we suppress it for the same reasons we run from the forest. And we ignore it because we're stuck with a vision of someone else's waterfront -- San Diego, or New York or Destin, or Pickwick.

Memphis needs a vision of the architecture and landscape for the River's edge. The vision should recognize both the edge's natural beauty,

green riverbank, Wolf River Harbor, Memphisand us.

houses on Mud Island, from the Wolf River Harbor, Memphis
The River should be the landscape architect.

willows sticking out into the Wolf River Harbor, MemphisThe man-made structures, the paths, or boat docks, or houses, should be built to survive the River's power, and complement the natural --the River's water, mud, trees, etc. And they should point us to the River. They should tell us to use it. And reward us with their beauty when we look back from the River.

Pyramid as seen from the Wolf River Harbor, Memphis
They should not be built to overpower its natural edge.

the foot of Beale as seen from Mud Island, Memphis

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Riches of Cooper-Young: Cause 1

random art, old railroad crossing, Cox and York, Cooper-Young, Memphis
The fewer boundaries there are that separate citizens, the better, because creativity thrives when people encounter one another from different parts of society...
Steven J. Tepper,
on the conditions under which creativity flourishes,
on Smart City Radio

Variety of housing cost is part of the reason Cooper-Young has become a viral, creative, rich Memphis neighborhood. It trends towards Memphis affordable. It blends socially and economically with nearby neighborhoods. No one is out of place in Cooper-Young.detail outside Pearl's Oyster House, Main Street, South Main, Memphis

And part of the reason that South Main is not-so-vital is its lack of that variety. (One suggested solution.)

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Are We Afraid of the Forest?

fence separating public from Zoo-controlled forest in Overton Park, MemphisConsidering that Memphis would be a cool, dense, deciduous and beautiful hardwood forest if we stopped cutting the grass, why do we keep cutting the grass? Or more reasonably, why do we have so much stinking grass that we have to keep cutting?

We have fields and ribbons and pockets of it everywhere, not just at our homes and parks, but everywhere, unused except for the cutting. It's boring, it's unnatural, it's environmentally taxing, but we covet it. Why?

Because grass makes us think our bungalow or ranch-style is Versailles (repeating Mrs. Greenthumbs).

Because we're afraid of the forest. The forest is wild, and wild is inappropriate.

In Memphis, the forest should be the rule, not the exception.

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

3rd Annual Forest Faire on the V&E Greenline

Third Annual Forest Faire

Saturday, October 20, 2007
10:00 am to 3:00 pm
V&E Greenline

In conjunction with Alliance for Community Trees, the third annual Forest Faire takes place Saturday, October 20th on the V&E Greenline between Dickinson and Avalon Streets one block north of North Parkway.

Join us for demonstrations of tree-plantings, urban forestry programs, plant swaps and tree sales. Community organizations supporting the issues of urban forest neighborhoods will also be on hand with information tables. For more information call 901-276-1782.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Livable Communities Survey

The Coalition for Livable Communities - which represents a diverse group of local stakeholders - supports the development and redevelopment of healthy, vibrant, and economically sustainable communities in Shelby County. We do this by educating residents, building consensus on a shared vision of livable communities, and promoting public policies that further that vision.

We are conducting an online survey on the "livability" of Memphis neighborhoods, from which we will gather and analyze information to help us develop outreach and policy programs that promote neighborhood improvement and sustainability. Take the survey.

Although the results are anonymous, all participants who provide their email addresses at the end of the survey will be entered into a drawing for a gift certificate at the Memphis Pizza Cafe.

In addition, we're offering a free pizza party - pizza and drinks for up to 25 - to the neighborhood or community organization most identified in the survey responses.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Where's the Crosstown Sign?

Where are ye, Crosstown Theatre sign? Crosstown, MemphisAs My Midtown Memphis has reported, the old Crosstown Theatre, long the Assembly Hall for the Jehovah's Witnesses, is undergoing renovations.

They removed the giant Crosstown sign as part of the renovations and I figure they're not going to put it back up. It was probably an economic decision that kept it up there all this time (the Malco chain moved out and the Jehovah's Witnesses moved in sometime in the middle to late 1970s).

But now that's it's off the building, where is it? Does anyone know?

It could be retrieved and installed in a gateway location, a monument announcing the neighborhood and it's revival. Perhaps at Cleveland and Poplar, or near the theatre at Cleveland and Overton Park.

I hope it's not on top a scrap heap heading for Japan.

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Coalition for a Leadbeater Memphis

Community Garden, Galloway Church, Cooper-Young, Memphis
I think at the moment the traditional [philosophy], by which I mean over the last 10 years, [is] heavily influenced by Richard Florida's work. The implication is that if you can attract cultural and creative talent, that can sometimes create the environment in which other knowledge workers and services, business services and others, like to congregate, and then you've got the core of a kind of knowledge economy in a city and that then creates jobs in personal services and so on and so forth.

The truth is, for me, that is too narrow and can be too elitist a view of what really generates a really successful city. And I think the really successful cities are marked by the way they engage everyone and their sense of talent is a talent for doing things that are local, or doing things with kids, or a talent in care services. You can imagine talent being a much more broadly spread kind of capacity. Rather than looking for a savior class to come along and save the city.

Actually the most successful cities, I think Portland is a really good example in the United States, Curitiba in Brazil is another very good example, where you get this mass welling up of creativity from all sorts of sources, not just from a single source. And so as a result these cities are more adaptive, they're stronger, and they've got a broadly spread kind of engagement that is constantly stimulating.
Charles Leadbeater,
speaking with Carol Coletta
Smart City Radio about
the philosophy of talent and cities.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Memphis Apocrypha: The Mayoral Victory Run

Now that we've seen how Captain Queeg might deliver his acceptance speech, I thought we should hear about another victory celebration, probably fictional, that happened 30 years ago. I was told the story by a friend who is a notorious liar.
Mayor Wyeth Chandler had the MPD cordon off the Mid-America Mall on election night. Once the area was secure, The Mayor stripped down to his underwear and began running up and down the street, clutching a bottle of Jack Daniels and yelling, "I won! I won!"
It's most certainly a lie.

By the way, Queeg is ultimately a sympathetic character.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Wen Jiabao for Mayor

It's too late to draft him, but Memphis can still heed his words.

Corruption is caused by many factors, and the most important factor is excessive concentration of power and the lack of effective checks and oversight. This makes it necessary to reform our system. We must implement the Administrative Permit Law that has been enacted and reduce the number of matters that require government approval. When government departments have excessive administrative resources and power of approval, it will give rise to corruption where public officials trade power for money, abuse power for personal gains, or act in collusion with business people. We should work to redress concentration of power and enhance public supervision of the government. All the decisions on administrative approval, particularly those concerning the interests of the general public, must be made in an open, fair and transparent way.

This means we need to ensure people's rights to democratic election, democratic decision-making, democratic management and democratic oversight. It means we need to create conditions for people to oversee and criticize the government. It means we need to ensure that everyone enjoys all-round development in an equal, fair and free environment and that people's creativity and independent thinking are fully released. It also means that we need to run the country according to law, improve the legal system and strengthen the rule of law.
He's a commie talking about socialist democracy, yet he speaks more liberally and candidly than any present civic leader of our long democratic city.

Clarification: I wrote most of this post a long time ago, and posted it before I had seen any of Thursday's election results. I'm not talking about one man. I'm talking about a system that has existed for a long time in Memphis, that existed long before he was first elected and would have survived his defeat. It's not just our political class that's the problem. In fact, focusing on that class and giving a pass to our business and institutional classes tends to racialize the issue, which serves the status quo, as racism has always served the status quo.

In point of opinion, I see the same love of authority, hierarchy, incumbency, opacity and exclusion, and their attendant corruption and cronyism, stagnation and public relations, coming from all quarters of Memphis leadership, public or private.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

YAGOMD: An Artist-in-Residence Residence

house on Young Street, Cooper-Young neighborhood, MemphisI love this house. A midtown bungalow/row-house hybrid.

We could give it an exotic Memphis name and make it into the nominal residence for Memphis artists-in-residence.

They can have salons in the backyard.

And from the tranquility and safety of the balcony, they can watch a breadth of Memphis life up and down Young Street.

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