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..."

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Blogger wfpearson said...

Brilliant analogy. In fact, I just drove past America's Home Store. I believe that the construction of that monstrosity ironically and tragically destroyed one of the oldest homes in Memphis, an antebellum plantation home nestled amongst an old magnolia grove. Someone let me know if I'm mistaken and the home is still there. I remember it was in the vicinity of AMS off of Whitten Road facing I-40.

For most of our issues in Memphis the government seems to lead the way in the destruction of our city's culture. We're slowly becoming a public works failure graveyard. The fairgrounds is now an absolute eyesore. The Great American Pyramid is now a The Great White Elephant in the Living Room.

Why should private developers care about the city's culture? In their defense, they're shaken down by virtually every politician in Memphis. The town bosses are running a racket and the developers right now are trying to keep their head above water in the current market.

I have an idea that could change things. It would require some some cooperation between city and county so don't count on it. We should have a Memphis/Shelby Co register of historic places (we may have that already). Private individuals and companies should be able to purchase these properties and they should be given a tax credit on their property taxes for the maintenance and protection of the landmark. This might be able to maintained as part of the current PILOT, payment in lieu of taxes program.

We know the government isn't going to take care of our city. We need to enable private enterprise to do it.

9:28 AM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

wfpearson, the property tax credit for preservation could be very successful and maybe have the same desired effect as PILOTs. I'm going to ask the folks at Memphis Heritage about this. Thanks!

Ultimately, we can't give up on our governments, local, state or national. Our present elected leaders aren't the greatest, but we have to work for a better day, both electorally and systemic.

9:04 PM  

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