Monday, September 29, 2008

To Kill a Fairgrounds

I've shown some role models for Memphis' kind of kid-unfriendly civic leadership before, but I missed one. A big one.

Mr. Radley, Boo Radley's pop.

So mean, he got his own optical zoom.

Here he is closing the knothole to thwart the children.

In dishonor of the closing of the Mid-South Fair in Memphis.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

3 Sculptures in Relief

On St. Luke's United Methodist Church on the Highland Strip.

Wall Sculpture at St. Lukes

the Hippo House at the Memphis Zoo,

Wall Sculpture at Hippo House

and the Main Street Fire Station.

Wall Sculpture at South Main Fire Station

Each is a streamlined metal relief representation of the building's function, an alternative to the detailed ornament banished from modernism.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Jane Jacobs' Easter Egg: Nature and the City

A surprise urban/environmental synthesis from the last pages of Jane Jacobs' Death and Life of Great American Cities:
Beale Street WalkThere are dangers in sentimentalizing nature. Most sentimental ideas imply, at bottom, a deep if unacknowledged disrespect. It is no accident that we Americans, probably the world's champion sentimentalizers about nature, are at one and the same time probably the world's most voracious and disrespectful destroyers of wild and rural countryside.

Tangle of Vines in the Old ForestIt is neither love for nature nor respect for nature that leads to this schizophrenic attitude. Instead, it is a sentimental desire to toy, rather patronizingly, with some insipid, standardized suburbanized shadow of nature -- apparently in sheer disbelief that we and our cities, just by virtue of being, are a legitimate part of nature too, and involved with it in much deeper and more inescapable ways than grass trimming, sunbathing, and contemplative uplift. And so, each day, several thousand more acres of our countryside are eaten by the bulldozers, covered by pavement, dotted with suburbanites who have the killed the thing they thought they came to find. Our irreplaceable heritage of Grade I agricultural land (a rare treasure of nature on this earth) is sacrificed for highways or supermarket parking lots as ruthlessly and unthinkingly as the trees in the woodlands are uprooted, the streams and rivers polluted and the air itself filled with the gasoline exhausts (products of eons of nature's manufacturing) required in this great national effort to cozy up with a fictionalized nature and flee the "unnaturalness" of the city.

Hellfire and Jesus on BealeThe semisuburbanized and suburbanized messes we create in this way become despised by their own inhabitants tomorrow. These thin dispersions lack any reasonable degree of innate vitality, staying power, or inherent usefulness as settlements. Few of them, and these only the most expensive as a rule, hold their attraction much longer than a generation; then they begin to decay in the pattern of city gray areas. Indeed, an immense amount of today's city gray belts was yesterday's dispersion closer to "nature."
The Old Forest clearcut and the decline of Parkway Village are displays in the same fictionalized nature exhibit.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

One Web Day 2008

Wildflower in Cooper-YoungHappy One Web Day 2008, Memphis!

If there's one thing that excites me about the Web and its potential power in Memphis is Thesis 7 of the Cluetrain Manifesto's 95 Theses:
Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.

Subvert, say, Memphis' particularly steep hierarchies of power and wealth, or better, the hierarchy upon which those hordings are built -- the hierarchy of communication.

What are hierarchies of communication good for? Bullshit.

So One Web Day, imho, is about Freedom from Bullshit. And that makes me happy.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Belvedere Block Party 2008

A new festival in the cool unique location of the pocket park on the corner of Belvedere and Madison.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Building Up

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 Rivercrest
The Rivercrest During Construction

and the Stratum on Highland.

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.
The Rivercrest is not so radical for a building in the South Main district, but it immediately changed the way I experienced the corner of Front and Pontotoc. Probably because it filled a corner which was long a surface parking lot. Plus it has a great staggered roof texturing its skyline.

The Rivercrest and the Hotel Pontotoc

So filling the space next to Gus' Fried Chicken on Front Street is all gravy.

The Rivercrest and Gus's

Mixed-use combo.

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.

The Stratum on Highland

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.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sustaining Sustainable Shelby

With these 2 upcoming efforts.

Sustainable Tennessee Regional Opportunity Forum

Summer Walk 2008If you want to have a voice in promoting environmental and green issues affecting the future of Greater Memphis and West Tennessee, this is your chance. This event will kick off an ongoing process of building sustainability networks covering multiple issues through the upcoming year. If you are a invested change agent or wish to connect with some, this is the one event for the foreseeable future that you can't afford to miss!

Download a registration form or call 901-569-4423

For more details visit

The Saturday session is the more interactive and more environmental in tone, however if you are also interested in sustainable development, check out the Friday session as well.

Friday, September 19 – Sustainable Urbanism: Metrics & Techniques with Doug Farr ($95)

An interactive seminar on the emerging pattern of development called Sustainable Urbanism. Primary sub-topics will include an overview of sustainable urbanism, the tools and techniques necessary to implement it, the thresholds and metrics that define it, and the global case studies that exemplify it. Participants will evaluate regional projects including Hernando West, Legends Park, Downtown Bolivar and the Midsouth Fairgrounds. Approved for 7.5 hours AICP-CM and AIA CEU.

Saturday, September 20 – Sustainability: Exploring Initiatives and Regional Issues ($45)

Bands Not Bombs ConcertLearn about current regional, state and national initiatives from Sustainable Shelby, the Mississippi River Corridor, Sustainable Tennessee and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Explore the process of developing sustainability initiatives focused on conservation and preservation of natural resources, healthy communities, clean and renewable energy and sustainable development. Participate in roundtable discussions to identify those sustainability issues unique to West Tennessee and the Midsouth region. Approved for 5.5 hours ISA CEU and 0.75 hours General CEU.

Local Co-Hosts: ULI Memphis, University of Memphis Ecological Research Center and Sierra Club.

Sponsored by: Memphis-Shelby County Office of Planning & Development, Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, University of Memphis, Fisher & Arnold, Shelby Farms Park, Belz Enterprises, Tetra Tech, Southeast Recycling, Inc., Boyle Investment Company, LeMoyne-Owen Community Development Corporation in conjunction with the Tennessee Environmental Council and Tennessee Conservation Voters

Call for Sustainable Photos
For The Best of Memphis
And Shelby County!
Mayor A C Wharton’s Sustainable Shelby is looking for digital photographs to advance the Sustainable Shelby initiative and be used in our upcoming Implementation Plan and website. We need your help to capture images that will help us illustrate the importance of sustainability for the future of our community - the things and places that you love about Memphis and Shelby County. We are especially interested in "active" photographs that include not only local places but local people as well.

If you’re an amateur or professional photographer, this is a great way to get your photography published and contribute to this important initiative at the same time. We will of course credit your photo in the Sustainable Shelby plan and on the website.

We'd prefer higher resolution digital color photos, but we will gladly accept any original digital image that you would like to contribute.

Please send digital photographs to and include a brief written description of the photo and let us know where and when it was taken. Please submit your photos anytime between now and October 8, 2008. There is no limit to the number of photographs that can be submitted per person. Thank you in advance for your help with this exciting project!

Photographs could include:
- Local example of natural features or scenic beauty
- Photographs of parks and recreational activities
- “Old Growth” forest in Overton Park
- Photographs of a great public place or urban environment
- Active downtown streetscape
- Downtown Trolley
- Your favorite place to walk, run, or ride your bike
- Neighborhood park with people
- Beale Street
- Memphis Riverfront and Riverboats
- Mud Island
- Harbor Town
- People using the Wolf River Greenway or VECA Greenline
- Community Gardens or neighborhood association activities
- Neighborhood commercial districts
- Historic districts or significant buildings
- Neighborhood clean up activities
- Examples of Public Art
- Local Farmers Market
- Favorite neighborhoods
- Or anything else that you love about Memphis and Shelby County!
So instead of this, they could use this, which might be good.

Memphis can teach, if we don't ignore.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sites and Visits

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Flood Level at the Foot of Beale

I noticed the flood gauge at the foot of Beale Street for the first time this summer.

Mississippi River Gauge on Beale
I've been wondering whether the River ever touched it.

And the answer is: only once, in February 1937, when the Mississippi crested at 48.7 ft.

Historic flood stage at 48.7 feet, as seen on Beale
The next closest crest was 45.80 ft on 04/23/1927.

In selecting where the City stopped and the River began, Memphis chose wisely.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Police Officer Attacks Bicyclist on Beale Street

From Anthony Siracusa of Revolutions Bike Shop:


Last night I saw a bicycle rider attacked by a police officer.

Around 11:30 p.m., a group of riders headed south on Second Street to the intersection of Second and Beale. With foot traffic very light and no police prohibition at the edge of Beale, the riders rode down Beale to Third Street. Upon seeing further bike traffic as prohibited, the riders turned to head south to bypass the busy section of Beale St. When the cyclists reached Third and Beale, a police officer turned and began waving his arms. To avoid the policeman, who would have otherwise been struck by the bicycles, riders headed south on Third up the sidewalk.

After six riders passed the officer, he became angry. As the seventh rider passed the officer, the policeman grabbed the cyclist by the shoulder and threw him to the ground. Shocked, I slowed to a stop, worried my friend had broken his arm. When my friend pulled himself from the concrete, the officer stepped as close as he could to my friend, who was now bleeding, and screamed into his face: "Didn't I tell you to stop?"

Officer Woodward, badge number 842, had the number "06" pinned to his lapel. After the officer ceased yelling, I asked the him if we were free to go. "You are!" he screamed. "But not your friend! He's getting a citation!" And after a moment's pause, he screamed "You're all getting citations! For hanging around!" We calmly replied that we were concerned that our friend was injured, to which the officer said nothing. After 30 minutes, my friend who was assaulted by a police officer and the three of us that stayed around to be sure he was alright ended up with tickets.

While we waited, three eyewitnesses offered their phone numbers to us and offered to testify against the police in a court of law. Our court date is set for the 21 of October at 1:30 p.m.

The citation reads that we had been warned many times before, and had been seen on Beale riding bicycles before. I have never once been warned about riding bikes on Beale St., and had never in my life seen any of the police officers on duty that night. The police report was falsified.

This type of un-checked violence from police to citizens is not new. This summer, a transgendered woman was assaulted by local police inside a police precinct, and security forces on Beale have been in the news repeatedly for using excessive force.

In court, we will challenge the charges. We are now investigating a suit against the city for assault and excessive force. Our friend almost broke his arm, and whether it is right or wrong that bicycles are not allowed on Beale St., violation of a pedestrian or bicycle law does not warrant violent force to subdue citizens.

On Saturday, September 27, a ride will leave from Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop at First Congregational Church and proceed to Beale Street. We will dismount from our bicycles and walk the entire length of Beale St.

The ride from Revolutions to Beale St. will leave at 6 p.m. on September 27. Meet at the red doors in the back parking lot of First Congregational Church at 5:45.

Please forward this message along to interested parties. For more information or to share similar stories, please contact Anthony Siracusa: 901.949.1201 or

Anthony Siracusa
First Congregational Church UCC
Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop
1000 S. Cooper St.
Memphis, TN, 38104
(901) 949-1201
Thursday 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Sunday 2-5 p.m.

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Chalk Architecture Saturday

2007 Chalk Art FestivalDowntown Chalk Art Festival
all kids, adults & families welcome!

Saturday, September 6, 2008
rain date Saturday, September 20
9:30 am- 12:30 pm

Memphis Farmers Market 545 South Main Street (just west of Central Station)

2007 Chalk Art FestivalNew award categories! "Most Original", "Best Replica", and the "Professional Artist" and "Architecture Firm" division awards in addition to "Youth", "Team" and "Adult"
All supplies provided AND great prizes from the Art Center and Saint Francis Hospital given!

Register in advance to enter the competition, or just stop by and enjoy the other festival activities and select your "Best of Show". So make your grocery list and visit us at the market!

2007 Chalk Art FestivalSeveral activities are on hand at no cost for kids and adults including a free style chalk area, "Balloon Man Mike", face painting, "Draw Dog" from the Art Center, and live music. Due to the generous support of our returning partners Saint Francis Hospital and the Art Center, this event continues to be free to all those who participate. Chalk provided for all pre-registered participants in the competition. Great prizes awarded in all categories.

To register and get more information go to or call 901.525.3818.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Discarded Dreams: Used Mattress Design Competition

Discarded Dreams: Used Mattress Design Competition

Hosted by Rubicon National Social Innovations and Architecture For Humanity

Architecture for Humanity and Rubicon National Social Innovations are pleased to announce the launch of our latest design competition: Discarded Dreams: Used mattress competition

| What can you do with a million mattresses? |

Mattresses are our friends. For years, mattresses selflessly serve our sleeping pleasure. We should all be grateful for our mattresses; after all, most of us were conceived on one. Why, then, are our mattresses being abandoned in dumps and left to the seagulls? Every year in the U.S. 40 million mattresses get thrown in the trash. Don't our mattresses deserve another chance? The problem is, the nature and construction of mattresses has made them difficult to dispose of. They often end up in landfills because they cannot be broken down and their component parts are hard to utilize. Until now.

| Challenge |

Architecture for Humanity and Rubicon National Social Innovations invite entrants to create innovative ways of converting used mattresses into useful products. The competition aims to encourage entrants to form groups capable of creating a consumer product, instructions detailing how to make the product, and a plan for production on a larger scale. Entrants must create designs that take into account the volume of mattress waste generated each year. Groups are encouraged to utilize local resources, including existing manufacturing facilities and other waste products.

| Schedule |

September 1st: Competition Opens
December 5th: Deadline for registration and submission.
December: Jury Review
February 2009: Announcement of winners!

| Prizes |

1st place: $1000
2nd place: $500
3rd place: Amazing Rubicon Bakery baked goods delivered to your door!

The winner/winners will also be invited to collaborate with Rubicon to design and execute a method of collecting and converting the mattresses into their value-added product, and potentially distributed for commercial use. This would be a unique opportunity to help an emerging social enterprise develop a product line with 100 percent reclaimed materials, create green-collar jobs, and support individuals in moving out of poverty.

Click Here for more information

It sounds like a gag, but the curbs and thrift stores of America will be the quarries of our re-new-able creativity. A competition well-suited to Memphis folk creativity and material reality.

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