Friday, November 21, 2008

5 Un/der/used Outdoor Spaces in Memphis

Memphis' urban outdoors has to be more than a smoky space between car and building.

I offer 5 heavily underused outdoor spaces in downtown and midtown that could be that more, places you'd want to stop and places you'd want to walk by (just so you could look at those who stopped). These places and others like them could be social anchors for our city's new street life.

As you can see in the photos, they are underused to the point of unused. They have the stuff to attract (including shade because outdoors should also be more than a spring and fall), but they need people, and the uses that attract people.

This is my imagining a social life for each of these spaces.
  1. Civic Center

    I hadn't originally considered Memphis' official public place for this, but when I asked for recommendations, several people pointed it out. A subsequent visit on a beautiful sunny day brought me around to the possibilities. Memphis' great trees are growing up here and softening this modernist, concrete plaza, which actually contains multiple spaces, including the center fountains,

    Civic Center

    the wall fountains

    Civic Center

    and the magnolia-shaded gallery around City Hall.

    Civic Center


    Realm: Public

    Pros: public space with increasingly mature trees, activity from public buildings, fountains that children love.

    Cons: cold modernism, hot concrete, single use.

    Challenges: No use-mixing during business hours, no use at all after office hours. And it's big. Of the 5 spaces, the most problematic.

    Possibilities: small vendors and markets catering to workers, tourists and residents. Mixed private uses, including housing, to provide mixed, around the clock uses.

  2. Cossitt Library Fountain Area

    Cossitt Library Fountains

    A low space defined by the walls of the original Cossitt Library walls and the newer modernist library.

    Realm: Public

    Pros: shaded from the east by highrises, from the west by the library and beautiful trees; visible from Front Street but separated by wall and sunken location; a fountain (although not operating now); soon to have lots of law students, faculty and staff walking by. Maybe art lovers too.

    Cons: the Cossitt has become a vector of speculative fever, which has perhaps led to poor maintenance, which has led to public disdain (which isn't helped by a 50 year old demolition that knocked out the stunning original Romanesque library).

    Challenges: to do anything small and simple when we just know that the site is worth at least a bazillion and a half dollars.

    Possibilities: with the fountain fixed, a breakfast/lunch/coffee area especially geared towards law students, and later a watering hole for visitors of the Memphis Art Park.

  3. Chicago Pizza Factory patio

    A nice patio directly fronting Madison.


    Realm: Private, but public street and sidewalk adjacent and visible.


    Pros: great shade; directly on and visible from Madison; possible spillover from nearby restaurants, like Huey's, Molly's and the Blue Monkey.

    Cons: uncertainty about Overton Square's future, the major anchor to the east; vacant shops to the west; itself vacant for a long time.

    Challenges: opening a business in an area that has been very spotty for nearly a decade and counting.

    Possibilities: a restaurant where the patio is a centerpiece, for itself and reborn street life on Madison. Maybe there's hope.

  4. Magnolia Room Patio

    Magnolia Ballroom Patio

    At corner of Monroe and Florence in Overton Square, it's a sidewalk facing court, shaded and protected by a beautiful magnolia. This might actually be an operating business but the court doesn't appear to have a persistent life.

    Magnolia Ballroom Patio

    Realm: Private, but public street and sidewalk adjacent and visible.

    Pro: a cool building and patio, which is shaded from the magnolia and the building itself. active neighboring businesses, including Mr. Lincoln's Costume Shop and TheatreWorks.

    Cons: location directly across from the world's ugliest parking lot; uncertainty about Overton Square development.

    Possibilities: always on patio providing and receiving street energy for adjacent businesses and, who knows, a vital Overton Square rebirth.


  5. Abe Goodman Golf House porch in Overton Park

    Patio of a beautiful Tudor club house

    Abe Goodman Club House

    overlooking the Overton Park golf course, the greensward, the Old Forest and the walkers, bikers, artists, music, dog and nature lovers passing by on their way to enjoy all of the above.

    Patio of the Abe Goodman Club House


    Realm: Public

    Patio of the Abe Goodman Club House

    Pros: awning already there, shaded in the west by magnolias, already has a concession area.

    Cons: I don't see any.

    Patio of the Abe Goodman Club House


    Challenges: Just doing it. Of all 5 spaces, this seems to me to be the easiest, lowest cost to transform (if we don't get distracted by grandness).

    Possibilities: Upgrade and extend the concession for more than golfers and more than tee times.
Because they are already fulfilling their public purpose, the public spaces can (and should) experiment with smaller ideas and smaller entrepeneurs. The private owners don't necessarily have that much leeway. Either way, I wouldn't think any would require massive renovations to be successful outdoor spaces.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Dave Reid said...

This last one kind of reminds me of a public place here in Milwaukee that for years was under utilized. It was the Bradford Beach House and for a variety of reasons it and the beach had slowly faded away from being a good public place. So this last year a very successful tavern group here in Milwaukee took over its operations and started scheduling it. And well people cam back and it was a hot spot.

Just some simple scheduling of events can really help a "place"

11:39 AM  
Blogger sylamore said...

As for the overton park clubhouse porch, I agree, a great spot. And, inside you can buy beer, soda, etc. All that's really needed is nice seating and maybe some umbrellas for shade, like those at Galloway Golf Course, which has a splendid shady patio that is well-used every day. It could be a great spot for walkers/joggers/cyclists to unwind with a bev.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous MATAlac said...

Cossett has always been a odd duck. Word is that they tore down the original b/c of settling. Are there ever any events at the library.

The civic center used to be a place for big gatherings. The mid-america large fountain was really nice. I believe the intent was to keep water in the plan when the trolley struture was placed there. Both water features are good designs, but a tad disconnected. Place needs a good theme.

I'm completely w/ you about the small vendors. The city should offer some kind of incentive to start these kind of business.

Chicago Pizza deserves to be re-inhabited. Known the building since I was a wee lad and never seen a soul in it. Would be a nice relocation spot for Memphis Pizza if it had any parking.

11:18 AM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

I didn't know they had beer. It calls for a beer-drinking tweetup.

If they had good coffee, mornings would be great there, even in the winter (inside they have a great working and used fireplace).

11:31 PM  

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