Thursday, January 29, 2009


John Weeden of the Urban Art Commission has a great post, Without, on his personal blog. It's a visual statement of the art and design challenges facing Memphis' public realm, a prelude to the "With or Without" campaign that UAC will be re-launching soon.

I wanted to add these 2 thoughts.

  1. I hope the WorWO campaign is place-based. The public's visualizing With will be much easier in the actual public spaces. Pay for artists to transform, if just temporarily, those spaces. Advertise With art and architecture, in place.

    Respect Our Neighborhood

  2. The ugliness of Memphis owes so much more to the dystopic land use and anti-design of politicians and developers than to graffiti taggers. So even if we could convince taggers to put down their cans, or pick up their skills, Memphis' blight of ugly would continue. The UAC, rather than just a arts sub-contractor for buildings pre-designed, could/should start influencing this world.

    Take a look at this UAC piece by Mark Nowell at A.B. Brewster Elementary School, a block from the UAC's headquarters.

    Mark Nowell Sculpture

    It's really cool, but as you might be able to tell, it's in the middle of a street-fronting parking lot, where it competes with the clutter of street lights for attention. So in addition to destroying the school's visual and urban presence, the street-fronting lot hides the power of the art piece.

    In this case, the UAC could have been, perhaps, a public advocate for moving the parking lot to the back of the building and creating a space near the front of Sam Cooper which would include Nowell's piece integrated into a grand, inviting entrance for the backpacked kids walking down Sam Cooper towards their school.

    As dystopia goes, A.B. Brewster is fairly mild. But it shows the visual and built oblivity of Memphis power elites that pushes much of the city and region to ugly. Other examples are speculative demolition and neglect, white flight abandonment and environmentally nasty clear-cutting.

    The Powerless With Spraycans is not the real Without.

    The Powerful With Vision is the real With.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

High-Speed Awesome

City Councilman Shea Flinn has a Smart City vision for Memphis 2009 and beyond:
We need to change (that damn word again) how we interact with the rest of the state and region. To this end, I would propose that our federal delegation get in the on the bailout package and try to get some high speed rail for our region. A few billion (remember when that used to be big money, now it seems like small change) would allow us to connect not only our city to Nashville in a greater way, but also with Jackson, MS, and Little Rock, AR, as well as providing the requisite short term jolt to our local economy.
This is a 2005 U.S. Department of Transportation map of possible high speed rail corridors.

See the gray hole in the right middle, between St. Louis, Jackson (MS) and Little Rock? That gray hole is Memphis. Not even a possibility.

Councilman Flinn's idea could change (that beautiful word again) that.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Personality of the City

Townhouses at Main and Vance

As a side effect to the buzzing around keyinfluencer's infamous Memphis tweet, I present these ideas:
  1. Memphis has personality. It's the sum and greater of the wisdoms, confessions, truths, flatteries, stories, lies, mistakes, delusions, recriminations, insults, abuses we share with and about each other.

    Broad Avenue Art Walk

  2. Presently, Memphis' personality is the sum and greater of the wisdoms, confessions ... insults, abuses, that we share verbally and textually.

  3. We have yet to create Memphis' personality in built form, athough we have so many prototypes on the ground.

  4. Consequently Memphis' personality is lost to casual visitors and new residents. People like keyinfluencer.

    Woodard House

  5. A new greatness, a new weirdass Memphis greatness, awaits if we build our city to its personality.

How do we do this?

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Architectural Passage

A recreasingly urban Memphis should retire the cosmetic architectural tailfin for at least a decade, and bring back the beautiful and functional archway.

Archway of the Tennessee Brewery

It's an excellent combo of visual openness and architectural control.

Archway of the Tennessee Brewery

When it's part of a structure built to the perimeter -- the public sidewalk -- an archway is a good urban mix of vigilance and visual and physical passage.

It would be cool to see a growing St. Jude line their new perimeter

St. Jude's chain link fence

with buildings, and make gateway arches the passage points between public and private . Beautiful urban gateways would be a striking solution to St. Jude's twin challenges of security and recruitment.

And they have a prototype, that they don't know is a prototype, already on their campus.

St. Jude Building

Build more, but this time as large urban gateways.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Fact: the Return of Li'l Film Fest

Live from Memphis' Li'l Film Fest is back.
Live From Memphis announces the re-launch of the LI'L FILM FEST with its 9th edition: Memphis - Fact or Fiction? That's right, it's back and it's gonna be better that ever thanks to our new partnership with the Memphis Tourism Foundation and collaboration with Indie Memphis!
Besides the "Memphis - Fact or Fiction?" theme, the films must contain an extra, surprise ingredient.
This "surprise ingredient" will be revealed at our Li'l Film Fest Kick-off Party! Wednesday, January 28, 6-8pm at the LFM Studio - 1 S. Main St. 38103.
Entries are due by February 27, 2009. The Fest takes place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 21st at the Brooks Museum in Overton Park. All the details can be found at the Li'l Film Fest site.

I will miss the funky First Congo location (what has become of that space?), but the Brooks is a fine replacement. I do hope the august surroundings don't diminish the fun, DIY spirit of the previous incarnations.

Great news for the New Year.

Architecture in Los Angeles

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Monday, January 05, 2009

Failure in 2009

Bungalow ArtI think Memphis has 2 traditional civic narratives of risk and failure. I would call them cycles but the circle is broken by their forgetfulness.
  1. Try

  2. Fail

  3. Recriminate, or "You Suck! I Suck! We Suck! Memphis Sucks! We should have never tried! We're gonna die! Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!"

  4. Heap derision and shame on the attemptee.

  5. Forget lessons learned from this horrible, horrible event.
A case study.

Or a more corporatist narrative:

Art on Side of Barksdale Market

  1. Try

  2. Fail

  3. Publicize success

  4. Blame bad press for appearance of failure

  5. Eventually abandon failure.

  6. Cleanse institutional memory.

  7. Repeat, all previous lessons forgotten.
A case study.

The first narrative personifies and demonizes failure; the second denies it.

My wish for Memphis is to shun these narratives of the status-quo, and embrace fast, iterative, educational cycles of risk, failure and success.

    Midtown Alley
  1. Try

  2. Fail

  3. Learn, or "Where did I make mistakes and what can I can do differently next time? Looking for another opportunity."

  4. Try Again

  5. Maybe Fail Again

  6. Definitely Learn Again

  7. Iterate


  8. Succeed!

  9. Learn.

  10. Try Something Else.

Failure as not only an inevitability but a necessity is very new to me, and mind-blowing. (proof of my old way of thinking.)

The change for me has come from this article about the work of Carol Dweck (who I've written about before), the work and openness of the entrepeneurial evangelists at LaunchMemphis, Mr. Jalopy's quote that "people are not born craftsmen, they just have the courage to screw things up." and this passage from Jeff Haynie's "What's Wrong with the Atlanta startup ecosystem and how to fix it":
Lots of deals for some period - say the next 3-4 years - will fail. Our goal should be to fund smaller amounts faster, build some teams up that can execute on different ideas without much concerns for revenue models and salespeople, and then FAIL FAST. Fail as fast as possible with as little capital invested as practical. Once they fail, they must be encouraged to START AGAIN as soon as possible! Refactor. Get back on the horse. What can we do different next time around? These failures should be not be shamed. Let’s go ahead and get rid of the startup scarlet letter. We need more starts. We need an economy that allows the whole thing to get going and fail and get going again - without having to mortgage houses and without having to present 5-year financials to get $50K. Go go go. Dream big and let’s find you some money to try it out.
Failure, and a creative attitude about it, will build the skill and the ecosystem.

Public Art on South Main