Friday, October 31, 2008

Random Thoughts Relating to the Pyramid

  • While it's not my dream use, the Bass Pro development is a use that is a re-use, and that is good. At the very worst, Bass Pro will be a placeholder for great future uses that will happen if we don't do something stupid in the meantime.

  • Some people think that demolition is to Memphis as magic beans were to Jack. In fact, demolition is to Memphis as the Luftwaffe was to Guernica.

  • The Pyramid is a monument that we've been afraid to treat as a monument. Consequently, we've confused the means -- an arena -- with the end -- a monument. So confused, we think it has no use if it's not an arena.

    Thinking about it as a monument -- have we ever tried giving it to the National Park Service?

  • Many people have noted the recent article about the Pyramid in the New York Times. Dan Barry's biblicalesque narrative of wandering in the Memphis desert captures well our local variants of the sacred and the profane -- the pompous and the goofy. Plus he called the Pyramid "glorious."

  • From another NYT article:
    After a century of flirting with its version of the Great Pyramid of Cheops along the Nile at the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, pyramid power is coming to the home of Beale Street blues and Elvis Presley.

    The structure, which is expected to take two years to complete, is designed as a homage to the Egyptian namesake of Memphis and an eccentric coming-of-age monument.
    Forget coming-of-age, remember eccentric.

  • The Pyramid is to monumental architecture as the Jungle Room is to interior decorating.

  • The Pyramid was an acquired taste for me.

  • The Pyramid is an ironic mullet. The world's largest ironic mullet.

Previous random thoughts on the Pyramid.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Creative Cluetrain


Artist Chandler Pritchett's ArtMemphis 2.0 is a digital native's spitball, targeted at Memphis' tired (and expensive -- spend the money on art!) PR and advertising strategies for arts advocacy.

It's a great piece, and any arts leader in Memphis who doesn't read it tomorrow should be fired the day after tomorrow (announced by their successor in a tweet).

Broad Avenue Art Walk

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Memphis' Creative Conversation

Working CreativelyUpdate: one of the panelists, entrepeneur Eric Mathews, has posted his answers to the Creative Conversation questions on his blog. As some of this great stuff didn't make it into the talk on Wednesday, it's a web extra, and a good example of the creativity of the discussion and the panelists.

Last Wednesday, Memphis held a fascinating Creative Conversation, Working Creatively, at the Memphis College of Art.

The panelists (and audience) discussed:
  • empty buildings and creativity
  • micro-finance
  • muni wifi
  • talent attraction vs talent growth
  • creativity and poverty
  • official Memphis' part in creativity (including a critical and balanced recap of that history by an audience member)
  • models for best creative practices
It was a great mixture of the honest and the hopeful, the critical and the creative.

For your listening pleasure and our future creativity, here's the complete audio.

The entire conversation, including introduction.

Or if you want to take it a piece at a time, the conversation separated into 3 relatively equal pieces, plus the intro:

The conversation, part 1.

The conversation, part 2.

The conversation, part 3.

The conversation, introduction.

Roof of the Memphis College of Art

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Quote of the Week: Always

When introducing new ideas and new creative thoughts, I so often heard the words, "No, we can't do that."

That is the most frustrating thing to creative people.

Because there is
always a way to do something, there is always a way to figure it out.
Chris Reyes
Founder, NinjaCat and Live from Memphis
at Memphis' Creative Conversation

Central Gardens Urban Art

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Detail from a Sinkhole

You've probably heard the good news about Amtrak service being restored to Central Station in Memphis after the sinkhole almost swallowed it.

When I saw the repair last Saturday, I noticed a little more good news.

When they rebuilt the retaining wall for the tracks, they detailed it the same way as the existing wall.

This is the wall as it's been for decades.

Amtrak Retaining Wall Before

This is the new part of the wall, on the right, after the repairs.

Amtrak Retaining Wall After

They've replicated the detail, the planes and bands, of the original. Perhaps it was structurally necessary, but I doubt it. Since Memphis has had little respect for its public works architecture over the last few decades, seeing a detail as simple as this is a pleasure, and maybe a hope.

Thanks to everyone involved for getting rail service going again, and for respecting a simple, subtle detail.

Details texture Memphis.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Face of Med City

As Daniel Connolly's Sunday CA piece Building a Medical City concludes, the Medical Center definitely gives "an opportunity here to completely change the face of the city".

Right now the Medical Center's face looks like this:

Will a change look like this?

The Medical Center overlay gives hope that it won't. But is the overlay enough, especially if juiced organizations and individuals cling (and build) to the same 50-year old anti-urban vision of Memphis, i.e., a scatter of disconnected places, the many gaps filled with car trips and desperate PR?

For those clinging, and those who've let go, the article has an illustration that imagines differently, of a new face, of a vibrant street life without the scars of surface parking -- happymedcity.

It's a cartoon, but it can be a guide. Everything we build in the Medical District should be imagined, built and judged to the happymedcity standard.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Sustainability is Fun

Art in BinghamtonHow do you sell sustainability? How can sustainability persuade ?

As a certified product of Catholic schools, I can assure you guilt isn't the answer. Neither is sacrifice.

But fun is. Or can be. Should be.

Fun how? Say, for instance, by
  • building compact homes and businesses, we'll densely and imaginatively create intimate private and connected public space. We'll fill gas-powered emptiness (aka berms and parking lots) with human creativity and social energy.

  • Broad Avenue Art Walk
  • making creative challenges out of reuse, we'll make the thrift store a quarry and a game show.

  • concocting local recipes from local foods, we'll show that barbecue was just an appetizer.

  • learning and sharing with the rest of the world, we'll help the Live Web finish tearing down the Magnolia Curtain (leaving the magnolias, of course). Memphians will be connected to the good and fun ideas around the world, and across town.
Sustainability requires creativity. Creativity produces fun. Fun brings more people to sustainability.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Public and Private in an Art Town

I'm nothing if not a delayed reaction, but a week ago Friday a Commercial Appeal editorial, while advocating a worthy alternative for the Promenade, stated that the
idea represents a good compromise between the goals of the Riverfront Development Corporation, which wants to bring more vitality to that part of the waterfront, and the Friends for Our Riverfront, a citizens group that wants to preserve as much open space as possible.
This not only trivializes the difference between these 2 groups, factions, philosophies, it misstates the difference. From what I've seen both factions want vitality and open space.

The difference is how much of the Promenade will be privately developed and controlled, and how much will remain, or restored to, public use.

At core it's neither a technical nor aesthetic difference. It's a struggle between the public and the private, over the public realm. It's a central civic issue.

Not that we can't* or shouldn't compromise, but we can and should understand what we're compromising.

By the way, kudos to the Memphis Art Park for their proposal and for this audacious statement from their website:

We're an art town first and foremost.


* maybe. There is also the legal issue, which is the public position written into an easement. It may not allow for compromise, but IANAL.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

The Turnaround

Here's a couple checking out South Main last weekend.

South Main Pedestrians

A few feet later, the couple stopped, and turned around. They began walking back the way they came, towards Main and Calhoun.

My theory: they hit a walkability barrier. They came to the place where a street's enticements, human, visual, aural, etc., weren't strong enough for casual amblers to continue ambling. On a Saturday morning, there aren't many people on South Main above Butler, unless a special event is going on. So they turned around, right about here.

I'd think tracking, timing and interviewing turnarounds like this would be invaluable if you want to improve the street life of a neighborhood. And while looking for turnarounds, you can walk it yourself, opening yourself to the experience as a newcomer.

If you're wondering why I was stalking a couple with crappy photography, I was trying to get a picture for Sustainable Shelby.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Sculpture Garden on South Main

I love the sculpture garden that sprouted in the past week at South Main and Talbot.

Public Art on South Main

It's a happy visual surprise.

Public Art on South Main

Public Art on South Main

Public Art on South Main

Public Art on South Main

I love the art and I love its setting, in a corner lot that's neither hyper-manicured nor abandoned. It has a beautiful old Tulip Poplar on the Talbot side, and bushes and small trees on the non-Main sides, to give it definition. The setting feels organically Memphis.

Public Art on South Main

Congratulations to the students who put it together. They have added real economic value to South Main. The value should come back to them.

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