Sunday, June 29, 2008


I believe the problems of MATA are Memphis' writ (not much) smaller:

Memphis Busgood people.
bad systems.

How can we have good people and bad systems? Because our leadership -- the connection between people and systems -- is broke down.

When leadership is hierarchical, incumbent, exclusivist, disconnected, unusing, unaware, uncommunicative, uncreative -- command-and-control -- it will happen. When the people who have the power to fix leadership issues don't, it will happen. Systems will decay, break, obsolesce, or never work in the first place.

Some very talented, motivated people can still build and correct great systems in world shaped like this, but systematically we will produce and maintain crappy systems.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Greenline Update

Here's the latest word from the Greater Memphis Greenline's Bob Schreiber:
Our negotiating team again just recently met with a senior representative of CSX, in preparation for a final sale at a fair price. The CSX negotiators agreed that the best use of the space is for a trail. This is a large step forward for us. On the other hand, the value of the land is still a major sticking point. At the moment, there is a quiet period in negotiations which ends June 22. We will continue to put updates as they come available on our website,

Crossing the Wolf River on the GreenlineCSX is clearing a swath in order to make room for their very large machine which pulls up their track. They have a senior arborist as a part of their crew, and they promise that they will take as few of the larger trees as they can.

They are starting on the North side of Shelby Farms, and will work their way West. They hope it should take no more than three months to have the entire line cleared. We hope to have completed the purchase by then, and have it given to the county, which will then issue the Memorandum of Understanding to us. There is a second machine which we hope to have in place as soon as possible which grinds up the gravel underlayment, crushes it, and tamps it down...and we have a useable trail. As soon as it is legal, we will begin scheduling cleanup days!

Since the negotiation period ended this past Monday, hopefully we'll hear some good news soon.

For those inclined, here's the decision that extended the negotiating period and my earlier recap of the issues.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

The Core Idea

Whenever you have a limited pedestrian zone, and another, slightly distant, limited pedestrian zone, you're going to generate X pedestrians. If you connect them you'll generate 5-to-10X pedestrians. There's the incredible geometric relationship when you attach small systems into larger systems. The amount of pedestrians you generate is a geometrical outcome.
Jeff Speck, speaking to the Memphis Regional Design Center
about the walkability disconnect between
Autozone Park and Beale Street

This was my favorite idea from Speck's talk, simple and powerful.

Beale Street CrowdIt should be at the center of all of Downtown's planning. It should be in every presentation that a Downtown leader makes.

Making walkable the spaces between Autozone Park and Beale Street, Beale Street and South Main, South Main and Main, and all of the above to the Bluff Walk and Tom Lee Park will produce the geometric outcome. And anything that disrupts the walkability, like the MLGW berm or the Main/Beale parking lot or the ill-advised Beale Street Landing surface parking lot, blocks that outcome.

Stop dreaming of the mythic East Memphis customer who would come Downtown if only there were convenient parking.

Start looking across the parking lot at the very many who are already here, at Beale Street, at Autozone Park, at South Main, at Tom Lee Park.

Plan how you will get them across the soon-to-be-formerly dull spaces, and how you will entertain the crowds that follow.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008


The Riverfront Development Corporation has a new web site. It looks good and, more importantly, it's built on a dynamic, open-source backend -- the Wordpress blogging platform -- and has RSS turned on.

This is a progressive float forward for the Riverfront folk.

Hopefully they'll add an event feed for their calendar soon. And I bet Wordpress will allow them to map previous web pages to their new locations, so they don't lose any of their Google Juice.

(Geekery, yes, but systems are possibilities. If you have a web site that is so static that you need a programmer to update, you won't update it much unless you're a web programmer. No updates mean little communication which means less promotion and less transparency. Of course, you still have to update but for those inclined not to communicate, Wordpress takes away the ease of use excuse.)

I hereby nominate the person(s) who made this happen to tweet, blog and lead the RDC master planning process.

Huling Avenue Steps, Memphis Riverfront

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Obstacles to Pump Dumping: MATA Bus Routes

For your consideration, the 2 Medical Center/13 Lauderdale.

This is a single bus schedule -- what you will see at a kiosk, or on the web.

We can fix this. We should fix this.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Remember When Ugly Was a Parking Lot?

Taj Mahal, brought to you by the Agra Development Corporation
While it dreams of a world-class Beale Street Landing, the Riverfront Development Corporation plans a surface parking lot for the entrance.

The original design is arguably great! horrible! okay. Build it and we will see. But this revised plan to pave part of Tom Lee Park shows no faith in the design, and no vision for the riverfront's future that hasn't been discredited in Memphis' recent past.

RDC President Benny Lendermon's statement of his problem -- that it's too far to walk from the nearest parking lot, especially for excursion tourists -- may be reasonable. But his solution is the same old gray slab. One more anti-urbanist, drive-up experience, another atom in a disconnected downtown. It will disconnect BSL from Tom Lee Park, the Bluff Walk and their hordes of walkers. It will frame the architect's vision with SUVs hidden behind remedial crape myrtles.

If you're to sponsor talks by urban visionaries who place walking at the center of city livability, you can't respond with walk-killing asphalt. Its time to build the new world. Right now.

For instance, why not allow on street parking on Riverside? Riverside is presently a launch pad and tail hook for I-55. Memphis has no need for that much speed in that spot. If it can survive a month completely blocked, Riverside can survive year-round with 30 mph traffic. Allow on street, parallel parking from Beale Street to Coppock Park. It will provide convenience at no cost, other than the salary of the guy who has to unscrew the No Parking signs and screw in the 2 Hour Parking signs. It will slow the traffic on Riverside, creating more (or impeding less) pedestrian flow between Downtown and the Riverfront, which can only be good for Beale Street Landing.

If you want to read/hear about the parking lot and more about our riverfront, go to the Memphis Cobblestones. Its author, Mike Cromer, has been attending, recording, transcribing (!!!), then posting the City Council's budget hearings with the Riverfront Development Corporation.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Memphis Modding Company

Next time you see a guy swinging a wrecking ball and yelling "obsolete!", consider Graham's Lighting Fixtures showroom on Cooper.

Grahams Lighting Fixtures Panorama
A recomposition of at least 4 buildings (from what had been 3 residential cottages and 1 or 2 commercial buildings) from 4 different lots, Graham's puts the lie to claims of functional obsolescence. If Graham's can build a retail showroom from 4 different structures of varying ages and original uses, obsolescence is just the imagination of those who claim it.

Here's another mod by Graham's.

I photographed the gate of the Tennessee Fabricating Company last year.

Tennessee Fabricating Company

amiev shot the same gateway arch a few weeks ago.

Tennessee Fabricating Company has departed, leaving its gate behind. Rather than ignore or destroy, Graham's remade it.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Progress on Union

Word from June West of Memphis Heritage:
We wanted to update everyone on the recent developments concerning the Cumberland Presbyterian Archives Building on Union Avenue and Chick-fil-A's plans.

Memphis Heritage has had two successful meetings with representatives from Chick-fil-A over the past several weeks to discuss plans for the Union Ave. site. As many of you know, Memphis Heritage was allowed to visit the entire building with 4 local architects to review the possibility of CFA adaptively reusing the building as their restaurant.

After the visit our architects realized this would not be possible based on the construction of the building; so we have been looking at ways to save the components of the building. A plan has been suggested to save the tower and the façade along Union Ave. with the restaurant behind this area. While this plan does not save the entire building, we feel this is the best alternative to losing the entire structure. Representatives from Cumberland Presbyterian told Memphis Heritage they would demolish the building if the CFA deal fell through so they would no longer have to deal with the preservation issue. They would then be selling just the land parcel.

CFA went to work to develop new drawings with this concept in mind. As of last Friday, June 6, we have had meetings with CFA and the Office of Planning and Development and have great hopes that this new plan will move forward. CFA would have an outside eating area behind the façade with plans for the new structure to be compatible with the existing building. Their plan would be to use salvaged bricks from the back part of the building to use in retaining walls, etc. The willingness of CFA to come up with an alternative for this site shows their interest in working with the local community and developing a compromise that will work. After finally getting to work with the CFA staff we have found them to be tremendously supportive of our preservation and community interests.

We will keep you posted on any new information when it is available.

Once again thank you all for your tremendous support. Without your emails and phone calls none of this would have been possible.

"Thanks for helping us give our past a future!"

June West
Executive Director
Memphis Heritage

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Where Do We Deserve an Urban Waterfront?

Wagner Place.

The Bluff and flooding have always separated downtown Memphis from the River. However, this location could very much satisfy Jeff Speck's suggestion for these reasons:
  • Closest that urban downtown comes to the river.

  • Smallest Bluff drop to the Riverfront.

  • City of Memphis owns the property.

  • No easements as with the Promenade, so it can be developed commercially.

  • Adjacent with the Promenade so public developments like the University of Memphis Law School and extension of the Bluff Walk are perfectly complementary.

  • Will create back-and-forth walking continuity between downtown and Tom Lee Park/Beale Street Landing/Cobblestones.

  • It's presently a surface parking lot so (almost) any urban development is a step forward.

  • If Memphis is serious about 2 other Speck suggestions -- fixing the 3rd St. Promenot and the Main/South Main knuckle -- we would have a continuous downtown from Autozone Park to Peabody Place to Beale Street to Main Street South Main to the Riverfront.

  • Because the Cobblestones are a man-made extension onto the River and this site is in front of the Cobblestones, this would be very much an urban waterfront.

  • Because it would be between the River and Autozone Headquarters/Waterford Plaza, any development would have to be the 3 or 4 story buildings that Speck used as in his presentation (example). Which for me is an advantage.

  • What are the downsides?

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Grow Your Soul: Share

Praises to Soul Fish Cafe and their very progressive attitude about parking.

Soul Fish Shares in Cooper-Young

Sharing helps optimize parking in Cooper-Young. This creates less pressure on everyone to have a proprietary parking lot. Less pressure is good for the district's other businesses and good for its space and architecture. The neighborhood texture is less likely to disappear in a cloud of parking-lot expired destruction. More density, energy and people -- customers -- in Cooper-Young, giving Soul Fish an attraction beyond its good food.

Contrast their sharing with the report of this Letter to the CA Editor:
I went to the Memphis Italian Festival on Friday, but as I pulled in to the Eastgate shopping center to park, as I have in past years, security guards ran me out. Have you ever seen this parking lot more than a quarter filled? I haven't, and over a three-day period, how much does it cost the shopping center's owners to pay for all that security, just to protect an empty parking lot?

Courtesy via the ever helpful Google, about quarter full might be right.

So they paid security guards, shunned patrons of a good cause and ignored those patrons' casual business (e.g., for this young man's employer, halfway between the Italian Festival and the parking lot), so they could stake a claim to their half-used asphalt heat sink.

Soul Fish's progressive welcome should be the vanguard for civic parking policy. "One business, one parking lot" development rips the texture and energy out of Memphis' districts and neighborhoods.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Rise Up Memphis Nature II!

Citizens to Preserve Overton Park (CPOP) is having its first public meeting on Thursday, June 5, 7:00pm-8:00pm, at Rhodes College in Blount Auditorium at Buckman Hall (a pdf campus map).

CPOP (which I'm now a board member of) will present a brief program on the devastating impact of the Memphis Zoo’s expansion into the Old Forest of Overton Park, and discuss strategies for protecting the remaining forest.

This meeting is open to the public. Everyone is welcome. Childcare will be available at no cost. If you need more info, contact Naomi Van Tol at or 901-278-2396.

The mission of CPOP is to preserve and defend the Old Forest of Overton Park for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. You can visit us online at:

Humid Old Forest

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