Monday, March 31, 2008

Jane Jacobs in Practice

Sears Crosstown from VECA GreenlineAs I continue my slow read of Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities, I have a question:

are there any cities who have explicitly implemented Jacobs' strategies in their planning practice?

I don't think Memphis has had much of her analysis, much less her practice.

Searching for an answer to the question above, I came upon the essay "Localism" by James Howard Kunstler, urbanist and social critic. It starts at farmers markets, ends with a vision of a post-Peak Oil urbanism, design and culture, and along the way gives us this:
Localism, in this sense, is very much related to the current craze for styling one’s endeavors as “green.” Tom Friedman cheerleads for “green” globalism in his New York Times column while Time Magazine runs “Greencast” programs on its website, and all kinds of specialists design green cars, green light bulbs, green toilets, green campuses, and green corporate headquarters (all the better for hawking those Cheez Doodles). Much of this activity can be described, to borrow a locution from public relations, as blowing green smoke up our own collective ass. Such, alas, is the sorry state of our culture nowadays that just pretending to mean well, for most people and institutions, is good enough.

I had originally come upon Kunstler via a link to his Eyesore of the Month, small essays on recent world-class starchitect atrocities. Here's my favorite.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, March 28, 2008

The City of New Orleans from Memphis

Balcony of New Orleans HotelI enjoy leaving Memphis -- and coming back -- by train. To and from New Orleans. My family and I have taken this trip 3 times over the past 5 years and we have always had a great time. We'll almost certainly take it again this summer.

Visually, it's a journey worthy of these mythic cities. You start off at Central Station in downtown Memphis early, but not too early, in the morning. With none of the blandness and placelessness of mowed freeway exits and medians, you pass through, and under, and over, the forests, swamps, farmland, lakes and small towns and Jacksons of Mississippi and Louisiana before arriving in New Orleans in the afternoon. It's a distinct Memphis experience, grounded in this place, where we are.

We've always made the trip in summer. For reasons obvious, New Orleans isn't as popular in the summer so we've always been able to get very good hotel rates in the French Quarter. Summer in New Orleans not only doesn't bother me, I like it. I feel (or imagine) the essence of New Orleans on a sweltering day.

Here's a Flickr slideshow for photos (most not mine) tagged with City of New Orleans:

Great for kids too!

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Help Save the Cumberland Presbyterian Building

Memphis Heritage is asking that you voice your opposition to the threatened demolition of the Cumberland Presbyterian Building,
  1. by email:

  2. by letter:
    Chick-fil-A, Inc.

    c/o Donald M. Cathy, Vice President
    5200 Buffington Road
    Atlanta, GA 30349-2998
    (and cc: Truett Cathy, Founder and Chairman)

  3. or by phone:
    1- 404-765-8000 (ask for Donald Cathy), or
    1-886-232-2040 (customer feed back line)
Memphis Heritage supports Chick-Fil-A coming to Midtown. They only oppose demolition of fine buildings to accomplish it.

Side Note: Memphis Heritage's annual membership meeting is tonight. If you'd like to help with their preservation advocacy and education efforts, you should attend.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Union of Chick-Fil-A and Cumberland Presbyterian

How can Chick-Fil-A open a restaurant on Union without demolishing the Cumberland Presbyterian building?

Build Next to Cumberland Presbyterian.

The old Catherine's shop to the east of Cumberland is part of the deal, as I understand it. There is nothing on that lot but a small commercial building and parking lot. Going straight back from that lot, away from Union, is a parking lot that (I believe) is part of the Cumberland Presbyterian property.

Chick-Fil-A could build on the Catherine's lot and Cumberland Presbyterian parking lot.

They would have lots of parking in the rear (or front if they wanted to move the building further back).

Most, most, most importantly*, they would still have lots of room for drive-thru traffic on the lot.

With exits to both Rembert (around the still standing Cumberland Presbyterian) and Union.

You don't have to look any further down Union than Taco Bell

or even closer, Starbucks,

for examples of thin lot, successful restaurant.

What about the Cumberland Presbyterian? It can't stay empty. Chick-Fil-A would still buy it, because they would need the exit to Rembert. But they could let needy church congregations use it for their ministries and possibly church services. It was, after all, built for that.

I've laid out the models here and you can play with them in Google Earth. Note that I modeled and scaled the Chick-Fil-A after the restaurant at 4916 Poplar (which I have included in the Google Earth file).

* Why most importantly? Because in my many years of living in Midtown, I've never seen a fast food restaurant on Union with a full parking lot (e.g., the Taco Bell parking lot above). Jammed drive-thru, but not parking lot. Starbucks is an exception only if you consider it a fast food experience.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Alert: Memphis Zombie Massacre 2008

They're make yer peace.

Last year's walk was alot of fun.

Zombies heading down Beale Street.

Zombies on Beale

Natural allies: Shriners and Zombies.

Shriners and Zombies

It was a Zombie Family Friendly Massacre.

Zombie Baby

A visual bonus: Zombie Dog. Not part of last year's carnage, but it does set a high standard for Zombie Dog.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Sustainability of Preservation

You're a fool or a fraud if you say you are an environmentally conscious builder and yet are throwing away historic buildings.
Donovan Rypkema

For some time I've been searching for links between preservation and the blossoming sustainability movement. Not much luck or skill until a correspondent sent me this article from the Journal of the American Planning Association that lays out the growing case for reuse.

Two words: embodied energy.

To strengthen the case even further, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is funding a study to create metrics for the embodied energy in existing buildings. It's also pushing the LEED rating system to give more credit to building reuse
According to Barbara Campagna of the NationalTrust, the USGBC has acknowledged that the point system is skewed against preservation and has asked the Trust to lead an effort to create preservation metrics for the next version of LEED, due out in two years.

If we're not vigilant, green will be what Memphis calls the next wave of destruction and abandonment.

peacock ornament on Wm. Len Hotel, downtown, Memphis

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Crib Notes for Sustainable Shelby

Gateway to the Tennessee Fabricating Company, Cooper-Young, MemphisMayor A.C. Wharton launched the Sustainable Shelby initiative a week ago. Hopefully it will give a strong and sustainable political voice for walkability, mass transit, increased density and other means to sustainable neighborhoods and urbanism.

However, besides its brief website and this Memphis Flyer article (read the last paragraph for a huge challenge to real sustainability -- the gap between earnest words and oblivious action) I can't find much of an online voice for the initiative.

I do know that Doug Farr's book Sustainable Urbanism will be the official text for the initiative and I also know that Portland economist Joe Cortright spoke at the kickoff. Unfortunately, Sustainable Urbanism costs $75 and the kickoff has passed.

Luckily there are several online sources that might give us an idea where Sustainable Shelby is heading:
  • This interview with Doug Farr on Smart City Radio, where he talks about his book and the key LEED-ND (ND for neighborhood development) rating system. Since I fear the word "green" will be used as PR cover for business-as-usual -- whether regressive (white-flight, sprawl) or destructive (demolition, clearcutting) -- I'm glad that host Carol Coletta questions him whether LEED-ND favors greenfield development over infill and brownfield development.
  • The slides from Joe Cortright's presentation. I understand they weren't actually presented at the kickoff because the projector didn't work, so you can see something the attendees couldn't.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Saint Francis of Cooper-Young

Walking past my favorite Memphis garden last Saturday, I noticed that Saint Francis, who had previously been beheaded, by sinners or Memphis garden gnomes,

has been reheaded.

Just in time for Spring.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, March 10, 2008

Race and Media Forum Tuesday Night

The first forum, Race and Politics, was great. Attend if you can (I'm going to the Peabody Family Art Night, so I probably can't).

While you're at the library, you can also view and vote on the Shelby Farms Park designs.

Labels: , , ,

Family Art Tomorrow Night

Thursday, March 06, 2008

One Laptop Per Child in Birmingham

I've previously made a pitch for the XO laptops for the schoolchildren of Memphis. Thanks to a link from Justin, I see that Birmingham, a city with a very similar history, is making the leap.

One Laptop Per Child doesn't dump raw commercial technology in the laps (literally) of children. The laptop, from concept to configuration, embodies a complete vision of learning from MIT's Media Lab, based on the principles of constructionism.

I wonder whether the traditional consumer model of primary and secondary education is too boring for those who don't have the proverbial carrot or stick pull/pushing them forward. When adolescent independence hits them, they light off like Huckleberry Finn for the territory. A curriculum, and city, based on doing and creating might help bring them back.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Smashing Memphis

In a scene near the end Martin Scorcese's Raging Bull, Jake LaMotta, the former boxer and middleweight champion has been arrested for abetting statutory rape. For his defense, he needs money.

He goes to his ex-wife's house...

and retrieves his championship belt.

He proceeds to smash the belt to retrieve the jewels that are embedded in it.

He takes the loose jewels to a jeweler. The jeweler wants to know where the belt is. Jake tells him that he removed the jewels from the belt. The jeweler tells him the belt of a champion is much more valuable than the individual jewels.

Jake tells him to give him the money for the jewels anyway. The jeweler offers him a small fraction of what he would have paid for the belt.

The next scene.

I think we still treat natural and built Memphis as LaMotta treats his belt -- as a holding place for raw commodities that can be brutally and unsentimentally smashed to pieces when the need arises.

But our greatest value comes from keeping the many jewels of Memphis intact and adding new jewels to them, in the many, many, many, many places already smashed.

No doubt, there is raw economic value in land stripped of nature, time, history, beauty and meaning, the value of graded dirt in flyover country. But like the Raging Bull and his belt, destroying our legacy decimates our future.

By the way, LaMotta's commentary about the belt smashing, on the Raging Bull DVD:

"what a stupid thing..."

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Performances with Heroes, Idiots, Devils and Dictators (Respectively)

the Hero, Tom Lee
From the UrbanArt Commission:
10th Anniversary - Delbert Sisk Performance

Delbert Sisk will spend his lunch hour every day of March interacting with historical statues at local parks, "interacting" with them, and bringing a sense of humor and life to the unresponsive statues.

Starting March 1, Delbert will be at Tom Lee Park at noon every day through March 8.

Mar 1-8 noon Tom Lee Park
Mar 9-16 noon Confederate Park
Mar 17-24 noon Forrest Park
Mar 25-31 noon Overton Park

This project is one of the 10 Temporary Public Art Projects celebrating the UrbanArt Commission’s 10th Anniversary. For more information, please visit the UAC website,

Mar 1-8's statue has to be the great Tom Lee. I'm pretty sure there are no other statues in Tom Lee Park.

Mar 9-16 will probably be Jefferson Davis. Confederate Park might also have a bust of a guy with a mustache.

Mar 17-24 will be Nathan Bedford Forrest, slave trader, Civil War guerrilla leader, first Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and name sake of Forrest Gump. Sisk will be also performing near Forrest's remains -- Forrest and his wife are buried beneath the statue.

Mar 25-31 could either be Boss Crump or the Dough Boy. I'm not sure, but I'm betting it will be Boss Crump.

This idea sounds great. I hope Urban Art records and posts the performances on their website.

Labels: , ,