Just in time for the second public meeting (tonight, Tuesday, August 25th, 6 p.m. at Playhouse on the Square), here are some random notes and thoughts from/about last month's Overton Square charrette.
- The leaders of the charrette have created a great website, http://www.squaretalk.org, for the redevelopment effort. You can share your comments and ideas there.
- The leader of the charrette, Chooch Pickard of the Memphis Regional Design Center, acknowledged that a lot of folk weren't happy that it was held on a weekday. He said this session was just a beginning and there would be more sessions at more publicly accessible hours (see top).
- It was still packed.
- The participants weren't all preservationists (although it did have substantial preservationist participation). All were advocates for a quality built environment in the area known as Overton Square.
- Architects, planners, developers, businesspeople, students, preservationists, environmentalists and dumbass bloggers were there.
- The morning session began with a walking tour of Overton Square, followed by a general brainstorming session. I missed both of these.
- The afternoon session had the participants split into 3 groups:
- those who wanted to save all the Overton Square buildings,
- those who wanted to save some buildings and most of the facades,
- those who considered the entire site as a tabula rasa.
The 3 groups (and sub-groups) brainstormed ideas for the area.
- The Regional Design Center has now posted its summary of the charrette plus the specific plans from each of the 3 groups.
- The original Overton Square founders were visionary businessmen with a great eye for Midtown commercial architecture but the monolithic ownership and regional parking lots they bequeathed are the root of the present problem.
- A great comment I heard from a charrette participant: the size of the Overton Square footprint overwhelms us with big dreams. Just start with something small -- and good. Begin.
- Monolithic ownership and dreams of the big score make the small, iterative difficult. In Overton Square, at the Fairgrounds, at the Pyramid.
- I voiced what many?most?all? probably thought was a dumb idea: Overton Square should choose Cooper-Young as a model.
My explanation for my dumb idea: Overton Square should at least learn from its never so flashy, but ever so sustainable Midtown twin.
Lessons like iterative, piecemeal development; reuse rather than rebuild; mixed-use; strong participation and input from its neighborhoods; distributed leadership; diverse ownership.
- Monolithic ownership, dreams of the big score and the urban scars left from a viral parking lot make following the Cooper-Young model difficult. But it's still a healthy, home-growing model to consider as we search for solutions to vitality.
- Low density, pedestrian discontinuity (e.g., Union Ave), and single use zoning and mentalities are obstacles for a vital street and public life in Memphis. Overton Square needs residential and residents to seed the street life.
- The biggest missed opportunity in Overton Square's history was the design of the now-defunct French Quarter Inn.
Taking the spot of Solomon Alfred's nightclub, which was firmly and directly planted on the corner of Madison and Cooper, the owners pushed the hotel back from the corner (and the street), separated it with a parking lot, then walled it up. While the wall made the parking lot more palatable to the neighborhood, the lack of entrances and the parking lot barrier made the French Quarter Inn a non-presence in Overton Square.
Had the owners placed it directly on and opening to the corner, the hovering hotel and Overton Square would have fed each other's energy and business, just as the district began competing with Beale Street and fake neighborhood bars in the 1980s. Disconnected, they both began a long decline.
- Playhouse on the Square, now building a cool new theater complex above the corner of Union and Cooper,
has the most to lose from antisocial, butt-ugly neighboring development. But it also presents Overton Square development a new opportunity: the people pouring in from all over the city, region and country for plays, camps and events.
This major cultural investment should not only be enough to stop a bad development, it should be more than enough to entice a great development to build next to, on to.