There's a matte shot in Scorcese's "The Age of Innocence" that has always blown me away. It's a sudden, unexpected shot of a single mansion, standing alone on a corner in the undeveloped grid of what will be upper Manhattan, waiting for the rest of urban New York to catch up. It's a vanguard for the built changes coming to New York. It's a stunning, exciting image.
I was similarly stunned by 2 new buildings in Memphis when I first saw them:
the Stratum on Highland.
Suddenly appearing on corners where parking lots and underurban developments had been for years, they're exciting vanguards for Memphis' under-developed grid. They've done it by:
- building over 2 stories
- building to the sidewalk, that is, Hell no! to parking lots and mega-berms.
- building residences on a mostly commercial street, that is, mixed-use.
- building on the corner, that is, magnifying their power.
- building on a spot that was either under- or unused before, that is, infill.
So filling the space next to Gus' Fried Chicken on Front Street is all gravy.
The Stratum on Highland (which I've posted about before) not only transformed the corner it's on, it's close to physically transforming the street. It's made Highland Strip a more urban space as well as a mix-used environment by adding residences to the street.
And they've done it in an area where they could have easily gotten by with the same old berm/parking lot style development. Far as I'm concerned, the Stratum is THE model for healthy physical changes in the University district. Good design, good use of space.
Will development catch up with them? In a hundred years we won't be as dense as New York, but a Memphis-scaled* density could be so much greater than what we have now. But the Stratum and Rivercrest are very much the exception now.
*by building not much higher than Memphis' great oaks, we could still have 5 to 6 stories of new development that wouldn't dwarf neighborhoods.