Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Details from a Deconstruction

It's not that we've lost a great building with the BellSouth demolition. What bothers me is it's being ripped out without replacement, unless you count a (energy swallowing) surface parking lot as replacement. The built replaced with the empty.

Yes, the office building itself was near suburban in its setback and its surrounding parking, but its height and street-adjacent raised wall gave at least urban presence and definition to that side of Madison. Judging by the picture below, both are coming down.

So on to the future! But a mediocre past should not be a barrier to a better future.

(Photo courtesy of Joe Spake)

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Toxic Dumping in the Memphis Viewshed

Viewshed is a new favorite word of mine.

I hadn't seen or heard it before this article about an Apple store going in Georgetown.

Like watershed, viewshed makes our visual additions and subtractions socially cumulative decisions, not just one-off bad decisions. Don't pour motor oil in the drain, don't demolish beautiful buildings for parking lots. Don't empty chemicals into rivers, don't clearcut trees.

An individual act will aggregate with a million other individual acts and destroy life.

CCL Label Building Demolition

The greatest pollutant in the Memphis viewshed is suburbanality, which is toxic to both natural and built viewsheds.

SuperUglyFund site in Downtown Memphis

Polluted viewsheds threaten our creative ecosystem.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Old Forest Jamboree This Wednesday

On the anniversary of the clearcut, come celebrate the Old Forest at the Hi-Tone.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Green Space

I received an email recently from the Natural Resources Defense Council announcing their program called Picturing Smart Growth. It's a series of smart growth visualizations in 70 different communities, showing the path from the not so bright present to a much smarter future.

One of their featured scenarios is in Memphis, and specifically, a street around the corner from Stax and Soulsville (College Street? The actual street isn't listed.)

The first transition, from the present

to the first phase,

is what really caught my eye.

The trees not only beautify the street but alter it spatially, becoming architectural.

This spatial effect was confirmed for me by the great Suburban Nation
These trees are not intended merely to be decorative; rather they are included to create spatial definition when the buildings fail to do so. The trees narrow the space and provide a natural vault that contributes to the pedestrian's sense of enclosure and comfort.
So Memphis, space and cash poor but tree and land rich, could move inexpensively toward a smart, built future by planting trees as the official "Phase I" of all our neighborhood rebuilding. Even if they're just regularly spaced seedlings, the young trees will be placeholders for the space that will emerge beneath their vault.

Plus an ordered, ritual planting could provide a very immediate, on-the-ground beginning to charrette implementation. A simple, tangible, visible groundbreaking.

Memphis Botanic Garden

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Light Addenda

Here's an another important question for the Triangle Noir section of my previous post:

How will this increase the prosperity and well-being of the residents of the affected public housing projects?

Also, for a progressive anti-poverty, pro-Hope VI perspective, read this blog post by Ryan Fowler, which I discovered after he left this comment.

Summer Walk 2008

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Memphis has recently publicized 2 major initiatives with huge real estate angles, Triangle Noir and the Parks Services Master Plan.

As these move forward, backward, sideways, into the shadows, under the cone of silence and back through the echo chamber, we must ask hard questions of everyone -- the public officials, the businesspeople, the citizens --- not just the politicians! -- involved with them.

For instance, re: the Parks Services Master Plan:
    The Edge of the Old Forest
  1. Who's on the committee?
  2. What's the proportion of citizen representation to business representation?
  3. How much of that is developer representation?
  4. Do any of the representatives have contracts with the city?
  5. Do any of the representatives have relatives who work for the city?
  6. Do any of the representatives have private dealings with the Mayor?
  7. Are any possible divestitures in the vicinity of major city led developments, e.g., Uptown, Fairgrounds, etc.
or for Triangle Noir:
    Looking toward Triangle Noir
  1. Why is it necessary to remove anybody from the Triangle Noir? Isn't there enough space to infill?
  2. Hasnt' the public housing being recently renovated? How is it dilapidated?
  3. How does this improve Memphis outside of Downtown?
  4. How will we pay for the elderly housing required in the rest of the city?
  5. Are there enough Section 8 vouchers available to everyone scattered by Triangle Noir?
  6. Will eminent domain be used?
  7. If so, will takings be given to private developers?
  8. Are any of the possible developers on the Mayor's host committee?
  9. Who owns property in the Triangle now?
  10. What are their connections to city government?
  11. What will Triangle Noir do to the mix of income in downtown Memphis?
I don't believe the questions are cynical. They're just the type of questions that should be asked anywhere the public realm is opened to exclusive private uses. Vigilantly asked by citizens and the press, and reasonably answered by independent means, they're an antidote to cynicism.

Public-private partnerships promise revenue and/or efficiency, but they will eviscerate the public realm, subvert public power to private ends and corrupt our democracy unless we ask and get answers.

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