Friday, August 29, 2008

Odds and ends

Cities shaming prostitutes and johns to put the kibosh on the practice. We used to do this here, don't know if we still do. (Actually, I don't know if the MPD ever SENT LETTERS HOME!)

California bill to reduce sprawl and encourage people to build housing closer to where people work.

— Bob Corker is visiting Georgia (the country, not the state) to view damage and humanitarian operations.

A new book says that sports stadiums often fail to live up to their promise of economic revitalization and that only team owners make out well in the end.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Potential Energy Potentially ... Someday

I've been meaning to post this for a few days now, a story in the NYTimes about wind energy and how the nation's aging power grid makes it difficult to use that power efficiently ... or at all.

From the story:

"Wind advocates say that just two of the windiest states, North Dakota and South Dakota, could in principle generate half the nation’s electricity from turbines. But the way the national grid is configured, half the country would have to move to the Dakotas in order to use the power."

And this:

"The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not."

In fact, electric generation is growing four times faster than transmission. I won't go into the technicalities of why the grid system is incapable of moving the energy (the story explains it well) and who needs to do something about it (cough, Washington), but I will say that with all the interest in alternative energy and promises about energy independence, the reality of the situation is somewhat frustrating.

And solar power runs into a similar problem.

On a smaller scale, MLGW will tell you that it's simply not cost effective to install solar panels on your house. And that going off the grid or selling power back to them simply isn't realistic.

Having looked at a $300 photovoltaic kit that would produce enough energy to power a (that's right, ONE) toaster — not to mention the $24,000 estimate ($22,000 after tax incentives) that Sharp gave me for a residential system — I can see what they mean.

Well, I'm sure we'll all enjoy North Dakota.

Let Them Eat Cake?

Calling for a food revolution, participants of the first-ever Slow Food Nation convention are convened in San Francisco this week.

The revolution centers on eating fresh, whole foods grown in a sustainable manner.

From a story in USAToday:

"People need to reprioritize food — much as they did in the 1940s before processed fast foods took over, says Slow Food Nation executive director Anya Fernald. 'This is an event to birth a more political food movement. We're operating in a context where it's become blatantly obvious that we're eating ourselves to death in America.'"

Some have criticized the group's platform as being elitist, but they argue that you can either pay more in upfront costs for healthier foods or you can pay more for later health care costs.

Michael Pollan's recent In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto shares a similar thesis. His three rules of eating boil down to: 1. Eat Food, 2. Not too much, 3. Mostly plants.

I read it about a month ago and I haven't stopped talking it up since. Pollan's simple argument against the Western Diet — and its related diseases — was too persuasive (of course, right now as I type this, it's not even lunchtime yet and I'm eating a box of cherryheads, so take that how you will.)

The slow food convention organizers hope that other cities will host similar events. In the meantime, organizers plan to post convention seminars and lectures to YouTube in coming weeks.

Brussels Sprouts. If anyone cares, I roast mine with olive oil and kosher salt. When I'm not eating candy for dinner, that is.

What's the Plan?

One of my readers — and a Snowden School parent — asked me to post a letter she sent to the City Council. Here it is, in its entirety:

"The children will not suffer. These words were spoken by Councilman [Harold] Collins when he spoke in favor of slashing the city funding of the Memphis City Schools by approximately 70 percent. Councilman [Edmund] Ford Jr. said to 'cut a little' when he also spoke in favor of slashing the funding. Councilman [Shea] Flinn said 'the children will not be hurt by this,' when he spoke in favor of slashing school funding. Councilwoman [Wanda] Halbert said the funding cuts to Memphis City Schools "will not hurt the children." Councilman [Myron] Lowery said that a 'day of opportunity' has come, that we need a fundamental change in the operation of the city government and the school system.

We must now hold these council members accountable for their decision to drastically slash the city's funding of the Memphis City Schools, specifically Councilman [Bill] Morrison, the 'brains' behind these cuts and this entire fiasco.

In the August 27th issue, The Commercial Appeal reported the following:

The $42 million in cuts at Memphis City Schools threatens the city's 'most vulnerable' groups, educators say, including immigrants and children needing mental health services.

So I now ask, Councilman Collins, Councilman Ford, Councilman Flinn, Councilwoman Halbert, Councilman Lowery, and most of all, Councilman Morrison, how can you now ensure that with these cuts, the children will not suffer?

Of course, these elected officials will argue that the Memphis City School administration made the decision to cut these particular services and that they could have cut dollars elsewhere. In response, I then ask these elected officials this: Please tell me where these dollars should have been cut, because if you're going to make a statement that the children will not suffer, you better be able to stand behind it. And you better be able to develop a plan to resolve the funding issues going forward. A plan is needed with the Memphis City School Board, Shelby County, and the State of Tennessee.

I, like many other Memphis City Schools parents, appeared before the council and asked for a plan. Instead, what we got was a blanket statement from these certain council members that 'the children will not suffer.' So now please tell me, Councilman Collins, Councilman Ford, Councilman Flinn, Councilwoman Halbert , Councilman Lowery and Councilman Morrison, where should these cuts be made? And where and what is the plan?

Martha Burkhead
Memphis City School Parent"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Safe as Houses

A LA Times story from Monday says that in 2004 the FBI was aware of the impending (at the time) mortgage crisis.

And though the FBI had illuminated the problem, the LA Times said they were focused on other priorities at the expense of the U.S. housing market.

From the story:

"Today, the damage from the global mortgage meltdown has more than matched that of the savings-and-loan bailouts of the 1980s and early 1990s. By some estimates, it has made that costly debacle look like chump change. But it's also clear that the FBI failed to avert a problem it had accurately forecast. ...

The FBI says it now has about 200 agents working on mortgage fraud, but critics say the agency might have averted much of the problem had it heeded its own warning."

The story goes on to say that the FBI had 1,000 agents working on white collar crime and banking fraud cases during the savings-and-loan bust.

On a similar note, CNN has a story on the quality — or lack thereof — of homes on the market right now, citing problems with mold, maggots, trash, and general disrepair.

From that story:

"Most of these mutts are foreclosed properties that have been permitted to fall into disrepair by lenders overwhelmed with thousands of vacant homes. If these houses sell at all, they're going for bargain basement prices that are hurting home values throughout the neighborhood.

'I've never seen so many houses in this condition before,' said Ray Anderson of Buyer's Advantage Real Estate in Auburn Calif., near Sacramento. 'And I've been in the business 20 years. I've seen bank-owned properties in the past. They were never like this.'"

Of course, if you aren't feeling the economic crunch and don't mind having to put some hard work into a place (or paying someone to put some hard work into it), it seems like now would be a good time to buy a house or investment property.

Remaking Montgomery Ward

Okay, so I'm not a huge fan of Dallas area. I don't dislike the places it houses (the Galleria especially) or the weather, but every time I'm there I feel like it's just one big highway with tons of flanking, interconnected access roads.

And that may just be because my sister, Mario Andretti Jr., likes to drive on the highway or it may be because the highway is the most efficient way to get around.

At any rate, my sister recently moved to a new area of town in Fort Worth and on a grocery run, I found myself looking at this, but from ground level and not so much a drawing:

Wait, let me see if I can find a picture. (I wanted to take a picture of it myself but with a hungry Danica Patrick at the wheel, there simply wasn't time.) Okay, this isn't much better, but it's something.



Montgomery Plaza is an old Montgomery Ward building that was constructed in 1928 to be the largest building in Texas. It was partially destroyed in a tornado in 2000 and Montgomery Ward took the damage as an opportunity to move out.

Now it has retail on the ground floor, residential space on the higher floors, a sweeping avenue between the two sides of the building that you can drive through, and a Super Target hiding behind it (from the street, you can't see the Target or its massive parking lot at all, which is nice).

I don't get the impression that the residential portion was complete yet — I think it might come online at the end of this year — but the retail and commercial space seems to be bustling. I have to say, all in all, it was fairly impressive.

I'm not saying that a project like this would work here — frankly, I'm beginning to wonder about a glut of housing in Memphis — but it does remind me of a certain large, former department store sitting empty in Midtown.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Carbon Dating

As you may or may not know, my Flyer colleague Bianca Phillips writes an advice column each Tuesday.

This week, she has an interesting question about long-distance love and its carbon footprint, and a link to a very cute site where you can determine your own carbon footprint (even if you're not dating someone in another city).

Mine was more than 11 tons of CO2 each year.

Cover to Cover

The Memphis Public Library & Information Center's 2006-2007 Annual Report just landed on my desk and, boy, it is a page turner!

Okay, not really, mostly it just looks to be a round-up of stories from the library system's newsletters, but I did scan it thoroughly. (And, yes, it is called "The Mall for your Mind.")

The report touts the summer reading program, the adult enrichment series, and the library's participation in a Bill & Melinda Gates foundation funded study called Making Cities Stronger: Public Libraries' Contributions to Local Economic Development.

It also includes the library's balance sheet for 2007: $15 million in funding from the city, $700,000 from the county, $950,000 from Bartlett and Millington combined, and $74,000 from the feds.

Fines and fees make up just a little more than $1 million in revenue, or about 6 percent of the library's overall income.

The foundation for the library comes up with just over another million in donations, grants, and bookstore/cafe revenue.

On the expense side, personnel accounts for $13.7 million, or more than 82 percent, of costs.

It looks like they spend $842,000 on materials, but it doesn't break that down to books, magazines, or computers.

Most interesting was probably the branch updates. For instance, there was a small note about staff from the Levi Branch library visiting local schools and daycares to encourage children to read.

Downtown's Cossitt branch was mentioned for its unique Wednesday afternoon lunch series. Poplar-White Station was noted for its Second Thursday Lecture Series.

Gaston Park has a partnership with Opera Memphis — the opera comes to the branch once a month between September and May for storytelling, dance, theater, and opera (natch) activities and the branch averages about 70 children for each activity.

You might remember that Levi, Gaston Park, Cossit, and Poplar-White Station was four of the five libraries slated for closure by Mayor Willie Herenton before the City Council took those cuts off the table. (Highland was the other library that was in danger of being closed.)

If you're interested in reading up on the subject, here are two columns I did about the proposed closures.

And here is a story I did about the library system at the beginning of the year after the retirement of longtime library head Judith Drescher.

Here is a column I wrote after Herenton appointed his new deputy director of the library.

The report also says that LINC/2-1-1 staff answered more than 15,000 calls from July 2006 to June 2007, an increase of 415 percent from the previous year. I assume that part of the increase stems from the public awareness campaign to get citizens to call 2-1-1 with their everyday questions instead of 9-1-1.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Big D

Blogging may be light in the next few days. I'm off to the Big D for a bachelorette party and, if the economy is lucky, some shopping.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hope VI for Section 8?

For this week's In the Bluff, I interviewed Richard Janikowski about his and Phyllis Betts' research on neighborhood change.

Their data first came to light an article in The Atlantic that linked the Hope VI program with crime rates. In a subsequent presentation to the City Council, Janikowski and Betts identified aging apartment buildings as problem areas, and suggested more site-based services at the complexes. The pair also suggested partnerships with landlords that might make the premises more safe: rigorous tenant screening, behavioral regulations, etc.

It's a complex issue and I'm not quite sure I did it justice in my column — 700 words is far fewer than one might think.

And to be completely truthful, Janikowski and Betts' Hope VI hypothesis is interesting, but I'm just as concerned about this area's overall mortgage problems.

Here are some slides from Janikowski and Betts' presentation to the council on neighborhood change:

Subprime loans
(ps. the little box in 38111 is the University of Memphis)

2007 Foreclosures
(pps. click each map to enlarge)

2007 Foreclosures by density
(yikes, the Riverdale/Raines area)

Percentage of people behind on their loans

No matter what you think about Section 8 or Hope VI, the bottom line is that there are a lot of vulnerable neighborhoods. And that seems to be cause for concern.

As Janikowski said, "Healthy neighborhoods are the backbone of the tax base for the city, so it's not just a question of the folks living in those neighborhoods. It's also what are we looking at for the future of Memphis. If the tax base decreases tremendously, we've got problems."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Compromised Position

In the ongoing tussle over more than $57 million in city funding, the City Council's budget committee this morning approved a compromise.

Under the terms of the compromise, the city schools would give the city $57.5 million from its reserve fund. The city would then allocate that money back to the school system to meet a state maintenance of effort clause and save the city schools from staring down the gun barrel of a $423 million state funding cut in October.

"The ball will be in MCS' court to fund it," council attorney Allan Wade said. "If they do not fund it, it will be their choice to not fund it."

But when council member Barbara Swearengen Ware asked if the school system was in agreement with the compromise, there seemed to be some reluctance from the district.

"The $57.5 million would satisfy the maintenance of effort test," said Irving Hamer, the district's deputy superintendent of academic operations. "The amount under dispute is how much the district will send the city."

Hamer later said that the committee meeting was the first time he had seen the proposed resolution in writing and that "neither I nor my colleagues are in a position to say that we accept."

"I've read it enough to know it doesn't really solve our financial problem," Hamer concluded.

But committee members decided to go ahead and approve the resolution, sending it on to the full council.

"This will allow them to get their full $423 million from the state," Wade said. "It is not intended to solve every problem MCS has. That's what the lawsuit is about."

Monday, August 18, 2008

East Memphis Chicks

When they're not at the Half Shell, they're hanging out on Flamingo, south of Quince.

Free roaming chicken.

Just kidding. Someone sent me these pictures yesterday, saying that they see these loose chickens about every other morning. They've counted five adults and five baby chicks near Cherry Rd. and Rhodes in East Memphis.

There's apparently a rooster that lives in the backyard of a nearby house, but these seem to be neighborhood strays.

Belly Up

Skating at Shelby Farms recently has been quite pleasant. The weather has cooled off some, kids are back in school, and the sunsets have been really gorgeous. Everything has been pretty perfect ...

Until last night.

There we were, skating around the first south of Patriot Lake turn when it hit us. A noxious cloud of stink, worse than anything I have ever smelled. Like dead fish times 1,000.

Now, sometimes there are ... smells ... at Shelby Farms. Usually they're localized and you just identify them and try to get out of the area as fast as possible.

But this was a foul wind on the entire south side of Patriot Lake.

Walkers were pulling their t-shirt collars over their noses. Children were crying. Dogs were covering their noses with their paws.

After our third or fourth lap, I made the mistake of looking at the lake's sandy shore and it was blanketed with dead fish. All the way down. Just one after another, lined up like you'd see at a fish market. But not. Definitely not.

Obv. not Shelby Farms. I didn't have a camera with me.

More dead fish were floating belly up in the lake.

In March, Patriot Lake saw a similar occurrence. Gizzard shad, a fish sometimes used by fisherman for bait, began dying off. Robert Mayer, the director of park operations, says he's not sure how gizzard shad, generally found in streams and rivers, were introduced into Patriot Lake, but the fish eggs could also have been carried into the water by birds.

The U of M Ecological Research Center's Bill Simco investigated the March kill and told the park that cloudy weather had reduced the oxygen levels in the lake, making it inhospitable for gizzard shad.

The park has called Simco to test water quality again, just in case, but because the dead fish are once again gizzard shad, they suspect lower oxygen levels as the culprit.

"We don't think we have any cause for alarm," says Mayer. "This is just a natural occurrence."

The real bad news is for park rangers.

"The rangers have to put on their waders, get out in the water and scoop out the fish," says communications manager Jen Andrews. "We have to get them out somehow."

Friday, August 15, 2008


Usually I don't do this, but after I read Friday's story in the Commercial Appeal about MATA having a problem with unruly MCS students at its downtown hub, I was a little perplexed.

A MATA road supervisor apparently ordered several MCS students off a bus, saying they couldn't go to the North End terminal and would have to find an alternate route. MATA representatives had also sent a letter to area schools saying the MCS students were not allowed at the MATA terminal after school because of safety and security concerns.

I'm sympathetic to MATA and its more mature customers' concerns, to a point. Large groups of teenagers anywhere can become loud, unruly, rude, and intimidating.

But if you have a system that filters almost everybody through a central hub, that means teenage riders are going to be filtered through that central hub, too. If you have a system that concentrates people at a central destination, you have to expect that people will concentrate at a central destination.

And under MATA's system, the direct bus route is almost unheard of.

A short trip from Midtown to downtown often means a transfer at the downtown hub.

A trip from Germantown proper to Wolfchase Galleria mall sometimes means a transfer at the downtown hub.

So in my mind, MATA's partly to blame. I'm not saying that all the students are behaving themselves, or getting on the earliest bus they can, but my guess is the reason they're at the downtown terminal in the first place is because they're waiting for a bus.

(Why else would anyone want to go there?)

Not to mention that you can't bar a group of people from using a public service. Luckily MATA seems to realize this. In reporter Jody Callahan's story, MATA spokesperson Alison Burton was quoted as saying that MATA could not prohibit students from using the terminal.

Earlier this year, I collaborated with my colleague John Branston on a story about MATA and how it was handling the opportunity of rising fuel costs. You can read that story here.

But this latest information calls into question something that I continue to wonder about: Who does MATA's system work for?

It doesn't seem to work for people who have other means of transportation, but who might want to take public transit.

I had heard it was designed to get Memphis' working poor to their jobs, but that recently was called into question.

And it doesn't seem to work for students.

Who's left?

And before you answer MATA management, I've heard it doesn't work for them, either.

Into the Woods

This week, Shara Clark and I teamed up to write the Flyer's cover story on the controversy surrounding the old-growth forest in Overton Park.

The Memphis Zoo currently controls 17 acres of old-growth forest that it plans to one day use for a low-impact boardwalk through the woods. But after the zoo bulldozed four similar acres for its new Teton Trek exhibit, local grassroots group Citizens to Preserve Overton Park reformed and asked that the zoo take down their fence and return the 17 acres to public use.

To read the full story, click here.

I get the impression that the zoo — for better or for worse — has a great deal of autonomy. Yes, the zoo is owned by the city (which then contracts its management out to the Memphis Zoological Society for $100,000 a month) and reports to the city's parks division and ultimately, the City Council.

But it also gets a large chunk of its funding from private donors and the City Council doesn't seem all that concerned with what the zoo is doing, as long as it continues to prosper.

CPOP recently went before the council to ask that the zoo's boundary be redrawn and the surviving acres of old-growth forest be protected in perpetuity. They also asked for an update to the Overton Park master plan and the zoo's contract with the now-defunct Memphis Park Commission. They have also followed up with a letter to council members and Mayor Willie Herenton.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The city, the charter, the schools

With a Memphis City Schools budget presentation to the City Council scheduled for this evening, school board and charter commission member Sharon Webb proposed — and then withdrew — a charter change that would have required the city to fund the school district.

In today's Charter Commission meeting, Webb presented a charter amendment that would have guaranteed Memphis City Schools at least 75 cents on every one hundred dollars of assessed property value.

After the City Council cut $66 million in funding to the school system in June, the district sued the city, arguing that it has a mandate to fund education under a state maintenance of effort clause. The city has argued that the maintenance of effort clause relates to the official local funding body, the county.

Webb said she wanted to give the citizens of Memphis the choice to fund Memphis City Schools.

"My rationale is that the children of the Memphis City Schools belong to Memphis city," Webb said. "From the abrupt decision made by the City Council, I really don't believe everybody understood the full impact of what happened."

In addition to Webb, charter commission members Willie Brooks and George Brown Jr. have both served on the school board.

Charter commission members Myron Lowery and Janis Fullilove, however, are currently members of the City Council.

"From what I understand, it's the responsibility of the county to fund education," Fullilove said. "I would vote no."

Brooks and Brown both mentioned how complex the issue of school funding was, Brown pointing out that today's meeting was the charter commission's second to last. Both seemed prepared to vote the measure down.

"As citizens of Memphis, we are providing tax support [for education], but its going through the county," Brooks pointed out.

"The last place we need to be talking abut school funding at this juncture is a charter commission meeting," Brown said.

After a brief recess, Webb withdrew her amendment, saying she would "just pray for the best."

The school board is scheduled to present budget information to the members of the City Council, the County Commission, and other elected officials tonight, 7 p.m., at Bridges.

Gone Fishin'

In this week's Fly-by (that's the front section of the Flyer) Shara Clark has a story about the ongoing Bass Pro Shops negotiations for the Pyramid.

Now I'm not going to spoil the story — click here to read it — but under a preliminary development agreement, Bass Pro will be expected to pay $35,000 a month for use of the Pyramid.

As I understand it, the development agreement gives the city, county, and outdoor retailer a year to come to a lease agreement for the building. If it opts out after the development agreement is signed, Bass Pro will have to pay $500K in termination fees.

Here's what I don't fully understand: It costs local taxpayers $600,000 a year to keep the Pyramid dark. Even if Bass Pro pays $35,000 a month for 12 months, that's only $420,000.

Will it cost less to maintain and secure the building if Bass Pro is in a development agreement with the city and county? Are we taking a loss on the rent to give them an incentive to sign? Or are we just giving them a sweetheart deal?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Best of the Best

Today's the last day to vote in the Flyer's Best of Memphis poll (and you know, vote for yourself or me or whomever). To do so, click here.

And I'm not sure I'm allowed to say anything about the annual Best Of party yet, but I will say this: It's not just a clever name. It really is the best party the Flyer throws each year. It even beats out our company holiday party, which is not shown below,

and our annual summer pool party at the Memphis Flyer Castle, which totally is.

Malmo and the Egg McMuffin?

I was listening to WKNO this morning when a commentary on the Egg McMuffin — and its inventor, Herb Peterson — caught my ear.

Peterson died in this spring, at the age of 89, and the commentator argued that besides Ray Kroc, Peterson had the greatest influence in making McDonalds what it is today (and yes, it was meant as a good thing).

Before the Egg McMuffin, McDonalds' breakfast didn't exist. Now breakfast accounts for 30 percent of the fast-food chain's business. And all because Peterson liked eggs Benedict and wanted to come up with something similar.

The commentator talked about taking risks and asked when the last time was that any of us spent an hour trying to come up with something new that would grow our business. I was thinking about that when the segment ended and, unless I heard wrong, the commentator in question was Memphis' own John Malmo.

I would link to the segment, but for some reason I can't find it anywhere on the internets. So I might have made it all up.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tree Time

The NYT has an interesting story in its Science section today about Diana Beresford-Kroeger, a biochemist and botanist who sees trees as chemical factories.

From the story:

"She favors what she terms a bioplan, reforesting cities and rural areas with trees according to the medicinal, environmental, nutritional, pesticidal and herbicidal properties she claims for them, which she calls ecofunctions.

Wafer ash, for example, could be used in organic farming, she said, planted in hedgerows to attract butterflies away from crops. Black walnut and honey locusts could be planted along roads to absorb pollutants, she said."

But here's what might be most interesting to Midtowners:

"'In a walk through old-growth forest, there are thousands if not millions of chemicals and their synergistic effects with one another,' she said. 'What trees do chemically in the environment is something we’re only beginning to understand.'"

Both Beresford-Kroeger and Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson have proposed using stock from old-growth forests in planting new forests to take advantage of those trees' good genetics.

"'There’s an enormous difference between old-growth forests and tree plantations,' Dr. Wilson said."

I've heard local CPOP member Naomi Van Tol say quite a few times that people don't realize how old some of the trees are in the old-growth forest in Overton Park because they — the trees, not the people — might be roughly the same size as trees in people's front yards.

But the trees in the old-forest have had to fight for survival and their place in the forest, which makes them fitter, hardier, and (apparently) smaller for their age.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Pilot Might

Today is the deadline for Northwest and Delta pilots to approve a joint collective bargaining agreement as part of the airline merger.

According to USAToday, the agreement calls for compound raises of more than 18 percent over four years. Northwest pilots would give a 2.38 percent equity stake in the new airline, while Delta pilots would get a 3.5 percent stake.

USAToday says the pilot agreement is a key element of Delta's plans for a smooth integration of the two companies.

If the two unions don't come to terms by the deadline, they will have to submit to binding arbitration.

Wal-Mart Woes

In response to a proposed Wal-Mart Super Center store at the corner of Macon and Houston Levee, a group of residents have recently formed Citizens for Sustainable Growth.

The group, which includes the Gray's Creek Association, the Cordova Leadership Council, and Parents and Friends of Macon Hall Elementary, are concerned that the area will not be able to handle the traffic increase.

"It's not just the nearby residents that foot the bill for urban sprawl. The entire county will pay the price," the group's counsel, Brian Stephens, said in a released statement. "This means less money for other areas, increases in taxes, and emergency vehicles will be further stretched to cover the increased demand in services."

As part of a concession to Land Use Control Board concerns, Wal-Mart has agreed to pay $2 million for infrastructure improvements at the intersection.

The group is also concerned that the new store will mean closing nearby, already established Wal-Mart stores and notes that Wal-Mart has never opened a new store in an existing market without closing another store.

In a comment to the Flyer last month, Wal-Mart corporate spokesperson Dennis Alpert said, "When we open a store, we make a commitment to the community. Opening a new store does not mean that we will close another store in the area."

To read that earlier Flyer story, click here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Bank Bail-out

Fresh off its Cumberland Presbyterian/Chick-fil-A victory, Memphis Heritage is setting its sights on the C&I Bank building at 200 Madison.

Photo courtesy Memphis Heritage

The distinctive downtown landmark, which was designed by noted architect Francis Gassner, is on the market and interested parties have proposed plans to demolish it. According to Memphis Heritage's press release, the Museum of Modern Art included the building in its 1979 exhibit of 400 buildings that had a significant influence on recent architecture.

Memphis Heritage will host a meeting at its home at Howard Hall, 2282 Madison, Wednesday, August 13th, at noon to discuss the latest plans for the property and alternatives to demolition. To RSVP or get more information, email

It's such an interesting building from the outside, but the inside has that great atrium. When it was still a bank, I was always amazed at the natural light in the lobby.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

"It's Called Progress"*

The Citizens to Preserve Overton Park went before the City Council parks committee Tuesday to ask the council to do four things:

1. Restore 17 acres of old-growth forest, currently controlled by the Memphis Zoo, to free, public use.

2. Update the contract. Originally drafted in 1994, the contract is between the Memphis Zoological Society and the now-defunct Parks Commission.

3. Update the 1988 Overton Park master plan. Though the plan had a horizon of 20 years (and considering it's 2008, that's just about now) it looks unlikely another master plan will be drafted in the near future. Parks director Cindy Buchanan said she thought they could deal with the issue of the forest without spending the dollars needed for a master plan.

4. Create some sort of long-term legal preservation for the old-growth forest, either a conservation easement or a state natural area designation.

I won't go into it very much — if you want to read background on the issue, go here or here.

Construction at Teton Trek

New council member Wanda Halbert — fresh off the evergreen-contract friendly environment of the city schools — mentioned that she was concerned both about public input and how the city seems to be abdicating its responsibilities to quasi-governmental agencies.

"I value our partnerships, but this is city property," she said.

The irony is that the very next thing on the agenda — the very next thing — was an agreement between the city and the University of Tennessee for the school to provide maintenance, security, and other enhancements to Forrest Park.

As presented to the council, the agreement would initially run for a year, then, like the zoo's contract, be renewed each subsequent year unless terminated.

UT vice chancellor Ken Brown said the park was in the heart of their campus and they are interested in adding more lighting and video cameras.

"All improvements will be endorsed by the city," he said.

Halbert, however, wanted to add a more definite time frame to the agreement. "You always forget to terminate a contract," she said.

*"It's called progress," courtesy of Barbara Swearengen Ware. The council member said that not everyone is proud that Memphians stopped the interstate from going through Overton Park and the zoo needs to be able to continue to expand and add new amenities.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Last weekend, I think I probably had the busiest weekend I've had in a loooong time.

It was one of those weekends that's kind of like being on vacation in your own city — okay, a staycation — where you go to places you've never been before or haven't visited in a long time. And you meet all kinds of new (sometimes crazy) people and, despite them, you remember, hey, this place is pretty cool.

With a nod to my friend Moxie over at Listwork, here's a list of my staycation destinations.

1. David Lusk Gallery for the Price is Right show. Convinced my friend to buy a painting by Dwayne Butcher that reminded her of a cupcake. Desperately wanted a piece by Carolyn Bomar that looked nothing like a cupcake.

2. L Ross Gallery. Felt equally silly for loving watercolors of animals with other animals on their heads and a watercolor of the Olsen twins.

3. Had various starchy foods at the Belmont Grill.

4. Celebrated the beginning of the tax-free weekend by closing down Macy's shoe and ladies' departments at 11 p.m.

5. Skated at Shelby Farms. I've never seen so many dragonflies in my life. I'm talking hordes of dragonflies. As I was going around Patriot Lake, it was like swimming through a cloud of them.

Don't think I wasn't worried one was going to land in my mouth. I was. One hit my friend in the head. (Update: Yesterday, one hit me in the cheek, right under my left eye. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that I ran into it with my cheek. Either way, ow!)

6. The Bagel Company on Poplar. Got the lox bagel — all it was missing was some capers.

7. Lyna's Nails. Got a manicure. Somehow managed not to mess it up before it dried.

8. More tax-free weekend celebrating at DSW, TJMaxx, Saddle Creek.

9. Got a slice of New York-style pizza at a strange little building in the parking lot of Lowe's in East Memphis. Got a lecture on religion, too.

10. Second-to-None Scooter store. Was having some work done on my scooter and had to go pick it up.

11. Broad Avenue. After realizing that I couldn't find my driver's license, my friend told me she had seen something fly up from my scooter when I hit a set of train tracks on Broad Avenue. At first I thought she had probably just seen some trash — of which there was PLENTY right there — but no, she was right. I found my ID in the middle of the road, just a little worse for the wear.

12. Mollie Fontaine's. Sat in a high-backed chair that matched my shirt. I love it when that happens.

13. Mary's. Had a beer. Watched a Cheetah Girls music video, thought it was Miley Cyrus.

14. The Cove. Brought back the Shirley Temple.

15. Senses. Danced on the platform.

16. Taco Bell. When I ordered, they told us they had run out of beef, which seems sort of extraordinary. It led to all sorts of confusion with the order and the substitutions and then, wouldn't you know it, I got a taco with beef in it.

17. Late night drive around the city.

18. Ate sushi at Wild Oats. They'd taken the gigantic fruit off the top and put it in a dumpster in front of the building, where it looked like huge, rotted fruit. Wished I had a camera.

19. Hung out at my friend's pool.

20. TCBY. It was under a new owner and new management, but I could believe it was yogurt.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Age and Education

Memphis City Schools deputy superintendent of academic operations Irving Hamer calls 9,000 elementary students a "ticking bomb."

They are students who, during K-5, have already been held back by at least one grade.

"I can practically say categorically that these students do not graduate," Hamer told the MCS board at its most recent meeting.

Add to that the almost 7,000 students who get held back during middle school, and the almost 10,000 that get held back in high school, and the district is looking at 22 percent of its students being overage by the time they reach 12th grade.

Hamer, who arrived at the district 10 days ago, has a plan to recruit 2,000 college students to improve literacy among overage students. Once reading skills improve, the district would follow up with a summer reading clinic for those same students.

They didn't go into it last night, but I assume those same overage children also pose a challenge to school safety and security.

MCS might be looking at students who have been held back because of academic achievement but, across the nation, the age of children in schools has gotten older, mostly because they are starting school later. A recently released study by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that 40 years ago, 96 percent of six-year-olds were in first grade or above. In 2005, only 84 percent of those children were in first grade or above.

Conventional wisdom tells parents to hold younger students back in kindergarten, especially if they are small for their age or are boys. Some schools, with a nod to high stakes testing, think the extra year gives students a better chance to meet federal benchmarks.

But that might not be the case. From the study's abstract:

"The relatively late start of boys in primary school explains a small but significant portion of the rising gender gaps in high school graduation and college completion. Increases in the age of legal school entry intensify socioeconomic differences in educational attainment, since lower-income children are at greater risk of dropping out of school when they reach the legal age of school exit."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Power Struggle

Last week, the Charter Commission held their third-to-last meeting and, though they didn't vote on anything, power — and who should have it — seemed to be the question of the day.

The commission discussed whether they needed the City Council to approve their recommendations. Commission members were concerned that there was not enough time to do so and that the City Council might not approve their recommendations.

"There's no reason to suggest that the council will challenge our actions," said charter commission chair and city council member Myron Lowery. "You're giving hypotheticals I don't see any reason for."

Former judge George Brown also wanted to restrict future charter commission members from holding other elected offices. Brown said that Lowery's knowledge and expertise was invaluable on certain issues, but seemed to suggest there could be a conflict of interest by serving on the two bodies.

For instance, Brown also wanted to discuss a provision that would prevent the City Council from altering the powers of the mayor.

"We spent a lot of time on the contracting authority of the mayor, only to have at their next meeting a City Council ordinance that would have undone what we put before the voters," Brown said.

There is currently a move by the City Council to require council approval for mayoral appointments to deputy directorships. The council has to approve division directors, but both types of positions are appointed by the mayor.

"Explain the matter presently before the council," Brown told Lowery. "You can take Poplar or Union to Germantown, but it seems to me the council is trying to get to Germantown one way or the other.

"The charter should determine the office of the mayor as well as the other two branches of government. Of the three branches, your branch is the only one that has the power to put anything before the public for a vote."

Lowery held that the council does not have the authority to alter the powers of the mayor and that restricting the powers of the council would be unconstitutional.

Saturday at Mollie Fontaine's

Girls Night Out makes my feet hurt ... but in a good way.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Chockley

Friday, August 1, 2008


This week, the UrbanArt Commission moved its office from Madison and 3rd Street downtown to Broad Avenue, and I'm wondering what, if anything, that means for the neighborhood.

Here's a pic from Weeden Arts Watch.

I've been really interested in Broad Avenue and Binghamton ever since it was chosen as the laboratory for the new unified development code a few years ago.

A friend of mine and I were standing on the street last week, just chatting, and she looked at the buildings and suddenly said, this would be a cool place to live.

On the one hand, there's a new elementary school in Binghamton, a nice parcel of vacant land for redevelopment near East Parkway, and, perhaps most appealing, really good bones.

Broad Avenue has a distinct feel to it, one that seems to me to be pseudo-nostalgic. The scale between the height of the buildings, the width of the sidewalk, and the street seems just about right.

On the other hand, there's the Lester Street murders, last week's gangland shoot-out, and tons of car break-ins (including, but certainly not limited to, at last year's hottie biscotti party for the Flyer's annual Hotties issue).

Vote Early and Often

It's time again for the Flyer's Best of Memphis readers' poll!

And I hear that there are even prizes involved.

Now, every year, after the Besties come out, I hear complaints about the results. Like, why is Target the best gift store? Or, how come McDonalds won best burger?

Well, let me just tell you, it's not because I think McDonalds has the best burger or even because they advertise with us — it's because the majority of the ballots voted for them. (This example has never actually happened, as far as I know, and McDonalds doesn't advertise with us, but you get the picture.)

So if you want to see someone (read: yourself) win something, it might be worth doing some campaigning. You know, buttons, cupcakes with your face on them, television commercials that end with you saying, "I approve this message."

And if you want to vote for me for something, well, that's fine, too.

(I was just kidding about voting early and often. You should really only vote once — we've been doing this a long time and there are people here that can smell fraudulent triple, quadruple and googaluple votes from a mile away. They won't tell me how, tho.)