Friday, May 30, 2008

Rise Up Memphis Art! Rise Up Memphis Nature!

Sculpture in Overton ParkTomorrow at 10 a.m., the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park are holding a hike through the Old Forest. Come show your support for this threatened natural beauty, and learn something. Something I learned: don't touch the furry vines.

Also, the artbutcher reported yesterday that operating funds and the Percent-for-Art programs for the very efficient Urban Art Commission were under threat in the present Memphis budget cycle. The latest word is the crisis has passed, but stay tuned to the artbutcher, always.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Seeds of Blight

Rental Houses without trees

There's a fight against blight in the Eastview Neighborhood, just north of East High.

Eastview is a very visually distinct place. If you travel Walnut Grove at all, it really sticks out. Not because it's a bombed out urban wasteland, but because it has no trees. It has never had any trees*. Not many shrubs either.

This "feature" has always set this barren streets apart from neighboring streets, which might be one neighborhood if half hadn't been visually tagged as something so much different. The streets' age (around 50 years old), architecture (Cape Cod cottage in both), layout (quasi-cul-de-sac) and connections (the rental area is joined to the homeowner area by interior streets, not just Walnut Grove) do not set the areas physically apart. In fact, it's possible they were all built as part of the same development.

It's the trees that set them apart.

From outer space the rental homes (see below, lining the left and bottom) today look the same as the day Yuri Gagarin flew over, with that fresh subdivision look; the interior home lots (on the right and top) have changed as their trees and shrubs grew.

But on the ground, the bare homes are decaying; the lush homes are stable.

I'm not blaming the treelessness for the decline. But for half a century the landlords, wittingly or not, have marked these streets as different, perhaps even a problem, along tree-lined Walnut Grove.

In Eastview, landscape has been legacy.

* along Eastview Drive, 3 or 4 houses now have willow trees in their front yard. These are the only trees I saw in front of the rental houses. Willows sticking out along the curving, suburban-style, mostly barren street have added to the visual distinction of the neighborhood. A Leave it to Beaver ghost town.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Trip to Autozone Park

Believe it or don't, but earlier this month I was invited by the Redbirds to see one of their games. I came and took some pictures.

The crowd waits for the gates to open.

Autozone Park

The side gate.

Autozone Park

Getting ready for the game.

Autozone Park

The crowd comes in.

Autozone Park

Watching the game from the bluff.

Autozone Park

More Bluff.

Autozone Park

The game.

Autozone Park

Autozone Park

One of a series of Redbird weather vanes.

Autozone Park Weather Vanes
While I didn't have to pay to get in, I did pay for my own Barbecue Nachos.

The Home of Barbecue Nachos
By the way, this is my first post ever on Autozone Park. Very strange since I consider it Memphis' great urban planning success of the past 10 years. Third and Union is now a vortex of public energy, inside and outside the gates of Autozone Park. A place of beauty, fun and attraction.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Suggested Skatepark Sites: Binghamton Park

Skatelife Memphis' efforts to build a public skatepark here have recently cleared another hurdle when the City Council approved funds for a skatepark in committee. The City Council must still approve the full budget.

Here are some photos I took of a suggested location, Binghamton Park.

It has a playground for small kids while their older siblings skate.

Binghamton Park

It has several clear rectangular areas bordered with trees that can provide shade, without creating obstacles for construction or too much overhead debris for skaters.

Here are 2 rectangles, the smaller next to the large tree, a larger defined by the trees in the middle.

Binghamton Park

Here's a much larger rectangle that leaves room for the soccer fields (which appear to be used quite a bit).

Binghamton Park
Other points:
  • 4 blocks to Sam Cooper Boulevard, 2 blocks to Poplar. I think you could get to it in 30 minutes from anywhere in the county.
  • It has on street parking going both ways on at least 3 sides of the park.
  • It's in a diverse neighborhood.
  • It felt safe when I was there. There were 4 or 5 families using the playground.
With or without a skatepark, Binghamton Park is a really nice Memphis park.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Beautiful Court Square

Memphis should be proud of the beauty that is Court Square.

Views from the Lincoln-American Tower

Views from the Lincoln-American Tower

Court Square from the Lincoln-American Tower

Court Square

Wireless in Court Square

But as Jane Jacobs observed, the beauty and amenities of a park aren't enough if the adjoining neighborhood lacks use and time diversity. More on that later.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Race and Economics Forum

The Dancing Trees of Overton ParkThe third forum in the New Path/Memphis Urban League 2008 Race Relations & Memphis panel series will be held next Wednesday May 21, 2008 from 6pm-8pm at the Ben Hooks Central Library in Meeting Room C. The topic of the discussion is Race & Economics and will feature panelists Dr. Jerome Blakemore, Dr. Dale Bails, and Roby Williams. Daphene McFerren will moderate.

Thanks, I look forward to seeing you there!

Tarrin McGhee

Program Director, New Path

Try to attend this forum, which was preceded by Race and Politics and Race and Media.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Progress: Cumberland Presbyterian Building

Memphis Heritage sent the following this afternoon.
Although nothing is completely resolved, we wanted to update you on the status of the Cumberland Building and our discussions with Chick-fil-A. On Wednesday May 7 several local architects, on behalf of MHI, toured the Cumberland property to see what possibilities existed for the adaptive reuse of the building as a CFA restaurant. The next day these same architects met with Chick-fil-A's architect, construction specialist and VP's of Real Estate and Construction who flew in from Atlanta to review the findings.

It was a productive meeting. While both groups agreed that using the entire building is virtually impossible for CFA's needs, Chick-fil-A has agreed to review the plans that were discussed on May 8 and get back with MHI within the next several weeks regarding the possibility of some sort of compromise. After meeting with the representatives for CFA face to face we were impressed with their sincere concern for the Mid Town community and their willingness to have an open discussion. They went the extra mile to meet with us and we both agreed that if we had met sooner things would have gone more smoothly in regards to our concerns about their plans.

Because we feel CFA is working with us to come to an acceptable compromise we would like to ask you to call their offices or email and thank them for coming to the table.

CFA Phone: 1-404-765-8000

We thank all of you for your help in emailing and calling the CFA corporate office. It made the difference. Without your support there would not have been a meeting!

Thank You!

June Waddell West
Memphis Heritage, Inc.
2282 Madison Avenue
Memphis, TN 38104

Thanks everyone for help making this good news!

Cumberland Presbyterian Archives Building from Idlewild Historic District

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why We Need A Public Skatepark

Memphis skaters need a skatepark and Memphis needs a skatepark.

Skaters need a challenging, fun, accessible, legal, and public place to skate. This city needs the energy, enthusiasm, youth, diversity, cameraderie, visual dynamism, creativity, numbers and fun that the skaters bring.

We need a public skatepark.

A Skateboarder in the Idlewild District

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Woonerf, La Rambla, Park Blocks and Main Street

Since there's been a lot of talk about returning and not returning cars to Main Street, I decided to help visualize various suggestions.


A woonerf is what Jeff Speck's suggested for Main Street. A woonerf, where vehicular traffic is integrated with pedestrian activity, is not the return of pre-1974 Main Street. In fact part of Speck's point was that it would be not much different than the present state, where vehicles already travel down Main by special purpose (trolley, police, carriage) or by accident. Which is why it would only cost $50,000.

This is what our de facto woonerf looks like.

Cars on Main Woonerf would travel the same paths that the trolley travels.

La Rambla.

Carriages and trolleys on Main Street, from the Lincoln-American Tower

Suggested by the Pesky Fly.

Portland's Park Blocks

Suggested by k. irène.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Opera and Go Go in Memphis

25 years ago today, Memphis strippers and their supporters executed one of the strange and great protests in Memphis' history. During the performance of the Metropolitan Opera's Macbeth at the late Dixon-Myers Hall, they stripped.

The protestors were part of a group called MASH, Memphians Against Social Harassment that had formed after the Memphis City Council passed an anti-nudity ordinance aimed at the city's topless nightclubs. When the Memphis Police Chief, John Holt, announced that he wouldn't enforce the ordinance against the Met, whose production featured a topless Cheryllyn Ross as the witch Hecate, because the "ordinance is not directed to the arts", MASH hatched the topless protest directed at the Met's performance.

Memphis cultural and business mavens, afraid of the embarrassment that the protest would bring to Memphis (although apparently not bothered by ordinance embarrassment) negotiated with MASH to call off the protest. MASH asked for a repeal of the ordinance. The City Council refused, and MASH put its plan into action, apparently with the support of the visiting Met singers.

When the topless singing witch appeared on stage, 20 topless club dancers and supporters, scattered through the audience, bared and illuminated their breasts with flashlights, lighters and candles.

No one was arrested.

A letter in support of the protest from the great Lucius BurchThere were photos taken of the protest by photographers from Newsweek and Time, but I don't know if they've ever been released.

ad that ran in the Commercial Appeal 2 weeks later

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Tours of Memphis Landmarks

Then on Sunday, May 18th there will be a tour of the mansion known as Annesdale, in Annesdale-Snowden neighborhood. Tickets are $10 which you can purchase at Mr. Lincoln's Costume Shop in Overton Square.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Progress of the Shell

A few shots taken over the past 2 months.

Early March:

Progress on the Overton Park Shell

Early April:

Overton Park Shell Renovation, April 2008

Early May:

Overton Park Shell Renovation, May 2008

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Benches of Idlewild Elementary

The Commercial Appeal wrote a great story about these benches, created by Idlewild students with Idlewild's artist-in-residence, Deirdre Daw. I wanted to add a few pictures I took at their unveiling on Earth Day.

Details from Idlewild Benches

Details from Idlewild Benches

Details from Idlewild Benches
Details from Idlewild Benches
Details from Idlewild Benches
Details from Idlewild Benches
Details from Idlewild Benches
Details from Idlewild Benches
You'd think that the benches, while looking beautiful, wouldn't really work as seats. Something about all that raised environmental ornament sticking you in the butt.

But looks deceive -- the benches are very comfortable. I even saw a couple sitting on one for 45 minutes straight at Idlewild's Neighborfest.

Idlewild Elementary's SWELL

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Jeff Speck's 12 Suggestions for a Great Memphis

Autozone Park Weather Vanes
  1. Build Memphis for Humans, Not Just for Cars.

  2. Stop Demolishing Your Economic Advantage

  3. Plant Trees.

  4. Organize Neighborhoods Around Schools, Around Neighborhoods

  5. Fix Downtown First

  6. Practice Urban Triage

    Beale Street Walk
  7. Fix the 3rd Street Promenot

  8. Fill the Main/South Main Knuckle

  9. You Deserve an Urban Waterfront

  10. Build the Missing Monument

  11. Stop the Outer Loop

  12. Put Cars Back on Main Street for $50k.
Made at Speck's fantastic Memphis Regional Design Center talk last Thursday. He was a self-described blunt instrument, a polite and funny blunt instrument.

Listen to it:

The entire talk (mp3).

Or, if you want it in smaller chunks:

The introduction (mp3).

General urban planning principles (mp3)

6 general suggestions for Memphis (mp3)

6 specific suggestions for Memphis (mp3)

Q/A (mp3)

Enjoy, learn, talk, act, then enjoy some more.

(by the way, thanks to Justin for lending me a recorder, and and Mike for paring the audio files to reasonable sizes. )

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