Sunday, November 30, 2008

Metal Shop

I don't want to get all endorsementy on you, but if there is one recommendation I would make for your holiday gift giving, it is this:

The National Ornamental Metal Museum's gift shop.

I spent a few years writing Memphis magazine's Fabulous Finds column (which featured six retail products each month) and if there was one thing I could depend on, it was that when winter rolled around, I could find wonderful, inexpensive gift items at the metal museum to feature: ornaments, mirrors, jewelry, pendulums (pendula? Sometimes the dictionary is no help at all), and all sorts of things.

I even gifted myself a couple of times.

NEXT Sunday, December 7th, the museum will host a holiday open house from 12 to 5 p.m. Members who mention the sale will get a 20 percent discount in the gift shop; non-members will receive 10 percent off. Holiday treats will also be provided throughout the day.

For more information on the museum or its classes (register by December 14th and get $50 off), click here.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Divine Update

Divine Mafa, the owner of Divine Rags, has changed his mind, as Katy Perry would say, "like a girl changes clothes."

Clothing shop Divine Rags, which has been open on South Main Street for some time now, was scheduled to close and relocate to Germantown's Saddle Creek.

The store has opened a location in Saddle Creek but Mafa has decided to keep the Downtown location for now, as well.

Just so you know.

Black Friday Bingo

Good morning, Black Friday shoppers!

The Consumerist, one of my favorite websites, has created a handy-dandy Black Friday Bingo Card.

It includes spaces for crying children, shoplifting, sold-out deals, overflowing parking lots, and all the other things you see and experience on the biggest shopping day of the year.

Play with your friends!

Or make your own bingo card online here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Hotness

Now that it's Thanksgiving — Happy Turkey Day, btw! — Christmas is right around the corner. Then there's New Year's, MLK, and Valentine's Day.

They'll be here sooner than you think.

I mention Valentine's Day now because every so often, someone will contact me and say, I have a person who would make a great hottie. And I usually respond, "That's great! Where were you last January?" or if I'm less grumpy, "That's great! Remind me in January."

One of last year's hotties, Lux owner Tadd Feazell

This year, we're getting a jump on things. We're soliciting nominations for our annual Hotties issue, which coincides with Valentine's Day each February, beginning now and running until mid- to late-January.

Please email with your nominee's name, a little bit about them, a way to get in touch with them such as their phone number and email address, as well as, and this is very important, a picture. Of them.

We're not trying to be all superficial, but the issue is called The Hottie Issue ...

What's in it for you?

Well, the Hotties will be the Flyer's special guests at our annual Hotties party and if you're the one who nominated them, maybe they'll bring you as their plus one?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

City Shrink

Last weekend's New Orleans Times-Picayune had a two-part series on what Nola needs to learn from Pittsburgh and Buffalo — how to cope with getting smaller.

"Lost population usually translates into widespread blight, crumbling infrastructure, stretched budgets and the loss of civic confidence and clout. But more than three years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans must confront the reality of a reduced population, as resettlement has slowed to a trickle.

Embracing or even accepting a downsized city can be painful for leaders and residents accustomed to seeing their town as the center of the universe -- with reason."

Reading that, I was reminded of something Councilman Kemp Conrad brought up several times when discussing the police residency proposal:

"Memphis has lost 7 percent of its population in the last 10 years if you don't count annexation. That's scary. ... We need rapid change," he said during a Leadership Academy forum.

Of course, New Orleans suffered a devastating tragedy, though the population was already declining before Katrina; our city shrink is more like a balloon deflating.

The story says that the process should be just as thought-out as smart growth, saying some call it "smart decline":

"The process offers opportunities, not just unpalatable choices.

When the warehouse is in disuse, should it be demolished? Can the site be reused in an inventive new way? Can green space be used to mitigate flood risk? Should we rethink zoning laws in lightly populated areas? Can we deed vacant land to neighbors so it will be better kept? Do we need to sustain the entire network of roads, sewer pipes, bridges and gas lines?

Perhaps the most direct — some might say draconian — approach to shrinkage has occurred in Youngstown, Ohio, which has lost more than half its population after a series of steel-mill shutdowns since the mid-1970s."

Youngstown (which, a personal note, was basically where I went to high school and, if memory serves, where Reid Dulberger, the chamber's vp for the MemphisED initiative, was the chamber's executive vp before coming here) has started decommissioning sections of town that have already begun to return to nature. City officials in Cleveland and Pittsburgh steer public money toward areas that have "a fighting chance."

Of course, if you're a glass-half-full-type person, growth has its own problems: sprawl, over-crowding, etc.

The second story in the series talks about ways New Orleans could slim down to match its smaller population. It might be worth Memphis taking a look, as well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Savings for Any Age

USAToday has a helpful piece today about what you should do with your money and, unlike many similar stories, it customizes its advice depending on whether you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, or 60 or older.

I'm not going to make a guess as to how old my average readers is — google analytics only goes so far — but USAToday says experts agree:

"You should do something. The financial meltdown is the most serious since the Great Depression. Nearly $2.1 trillion has evaporated this month alone."

Younger investors can take solace in the fact that they haven't lost as much as older investors; the article says if you're in your 20s, you should be putting 80 percent of your savings in stocks, but you might ignore the old advice that you should put your money into riskier stocks, which can have higher gains ... and losses.

If you're in your 30s, the story says to keep contributing to retirement accounts and try to protect yourself from the risks of unemployment by having at least 6 months of cash squirreled away.

If you're in your 40s, you should be stuffing as much money into your retirement savings plan as possible but stay diversified.

If you're in your 50s, don't do anything rash. Of course, it also says don't overlook any way to boost your savings. If you're in your 50s, I'd read the entire section.

But if you're in your 60s or older, you might skip it: The story suggests over-60s put off Social Security as long as possible, cut back on withdrawals, work part time, and move money to safer investments.

Tips for the Time

My second favorite holiday is this week: Black Friday, the time where generations of American families come together to get up at the crack of dawn, wait out in a dark Wal-mart parking lot for some poor, unfortunate soul to open up the automatic doors, and then trample inside like a pack of wild dogs intent on getting the cheapest presents possible. Even if it means ripping it out of someone else's hands.

(It kind of reminds me of roller derby.)

At any rate, the MPD has sent out a list of helpful tips to start the season. You can find the full list at the MPD's website, but I've picked out a few:

— When possible, shop during daylight hours.

— Dress casually and comfortably (ed: This is just practical. I mean, you wouldn't run a marathon in high heels, would you? No, not unless you were Kelly Ripa.)

— Do not carry a purse or wallet, if possible. Keep cash in your front pocket.

— Avoid carrying large amounts of cash. Pay for purchases with a check or credit card if possible. (Your financial advisors would tell you the exact opposite. Well, except for the carrying large amount of cash part. They'd probably agree with MPD there)

— Beware of strangers approaching you for any reason (Same as any other time of year, really)

— When driving, keep all car doors locked and window closed while in or out of your car.

— Avoid parking next to vans, trucks with camper shells, or cars with tinted windows (That's if you can find a parking space at all)

— Do not leave packages or valuables on the seat of your car.

— Be sure to locate your keys before going to your car. Do not approach your car alone if there are suspicious people in the area.

— When leaving home for an extended period of time, have a neighbor or family member watch your house and pick up your newspapers and mail.

— Leave a radio or television on so the house looks and sounds occupied.

— Donate to a recognized charitable organization (I like this one. I think they mean as opposed to donating to a charity you've never heard of, but a little good karma at this time of year can't hurt.)

In the event you need to contact the police, call 545-COPS for non-emergencies or 911 for emergencies.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bicycling's Worst

Bicycling Magazine has released its best cities for cycling and guess what?

Memphis ... Not on the list.

Actually, the Bluff city did make one of their lists ... the one of the worst cities for cycling, along with Miami and Dallas.

Here's what they had to say:

"No bike lanes exist within the city limits of Memphis. And the city government, comprised of layers of bureaucracy, has repeatedly ignored or rejected requests from bike clubs, shops and other organizations to create facilities. For example, in 2005 the Tennessee department of transportation and the city engineer's office conducted a study of Walnut Grove Road, a main artery in Memphis which leads into Shelby Farms Park, a 4,500-acre urban park run by Shelby County. The study concluded that the road would be unsuitable for bikes, and recommended a few simple changes to its design to accommodate a bike lane. The lane would allow access to the park for bikes, instead of just cars. Officials promised to explore a plan, but new curbs, gutters and sidewalks were built without explanation, effectively eliminating the possibility of a lane."

I don't know much about cycling or whether this is a good city for it (the presence of Memphis drivers alone makes me nervous ... ). However, I will mention one thing: There are now bike lanes striped on Shady Grove, which means there ARE bike lanes within the city limits.

Deemed "still the greatest" cities for cycling were Portland, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boulder.

Neighborhood Stabilization

As I've reported in the past, Memphis and Shelby County are set to receive about $12 million in HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Funds through the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA).

The money has several stipulations: It has to be used in areas hardest hit by foreclosures, for starters. It can be used to buy foreclosed property, renovate or rehab foreclosed property, and create land banks for redevelopment.

But it cannot be used to prevent foreclosures.

And with the credit market in the shape its in, rehabbing foreclosed property for sale or redeveloping property, again, for sale, might not be the most successful solution.

In order to meet the stipulation regarding the hardest hit areas, the city and county used Chandler Report data to find the "top 10" zip codes with the greatest percentage of foreclosures, as well as those zip codes with the highest percentage of homes financed by a subprime mortgage-related loan.

But a recent Op-ed from Planetizen suggests that by concentrating assistance in the hardest-hit areas, few places will be saved.

Charles Buki, a principal at a Virginia-based neighborhood planning firm, says that local governments should focus on the hardest-hit areas, but also those areas where they have the greatest chance for success.

He says:

"HERA requires that resources go to areas with the most foreclosures, thereby attaching dollars to the markets where demand is weakest. Not surprisingly, with some exceptions, these are the weakest areas of the weakest urban centers, and almost precisely the geographies where we community developers have been working so hard to turn things around for so long. ...

"The tools we have with HERA are in actuality little different than those we have been using. The conclusion: same places, same indicators, same constraints, same tools, same outcome."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday morning odds and ends

— The Midtown North Collaborative will host a one-day community market and Thanksgiving celebration tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (perfect for those of us who aren't early risers). Though it's late in the season for produce, the market will feature late falls items and "late fall items and baked goods including greens, sweet potatoes, pies, jams and jellies."

The market will be held in the parking lot of the Hollywood Community Center at 1560 N. Hollywood Street (north of Chelsea). The Midtown North Collaborative plans to begin a weekly small-scale farmers market next spring and through the summer.

— A painting by artist Danny Broadway graces this year's holiday card from the Church Health Center. The suggested gift from each card is $10 and the cards can be sent in memory or in honor of someone.

Public Relations and Communications Coordinator Jeff Hulett says, "Once we get their list of people they want to send the cards to, as well as what they want to say, we have an army of volunteers who hand-inscribe word for word what they want to say. And then we mail it for them."

For more information about the Church Health Center holiday cards, call 272-7170 or visit

— Local government is set to receive $12 million in HUD neighborhood stabilization grant money, only those funds can only be used to buy and renovate foreclosed properties, demolish blighted structures, and create land banks for redevelopment.

But with the economy the way it is, the idea of people buying property as a way out of the foreclosure crisis is a little suspect. AlterNet says to "Keep It Simple: Stop the Foreclosure Crisis with the Right to Rent."

From the story:

"Congress can temporarily modify the rules on foreclosure to give families facing foreclosure the right to rent their homes at the market rate for a substantial period of time. Rep. Raul Grijalva proposed such a change in the Saving Family Homes Act, which would allow homeowners the option to remain as renters for up to 20 years following a foreclosure.

This bill would immediately give families security in their home, so that if they like the home, the neighborhood, the school for their kids, they would have the option to stay in the house for a substantial period of time. This also has the great benefit for the neighborhood that homes will remain occupied."

It also gives banks an incentive to negotiate with the homeowner, something that, even now, people close to the crisis say banks are not eager to do.

— On the opposite side of the issue, USAToday has a story about several areas that escaped the mortgage crisis altogether. They are mostly small cities surrounded by rural areas that never saw any of the housing boom and where many of the residents own their home outright:

"Some mortgage-free clusters are in declining areas that have suffered job losses and dwindling populations for years. Residents who remain often have lived in their homes far longer than the conventional life of a mortgage.

Others are in thriving retirement communities popular with seniors who earned enough equity on the sale of their old homes to buy their retirement nests without borrowing money.

Being mortgage-free doesn't shelter people from a worldwide recession. Although their homes are paid for, they're still feeling the pain of a sinking stock market, threatened pensions, layoffs and credit squeeze."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

From Yellow Fever to the Sanitation Strike

After Memphis historian Perre Magness visited a class of elementary school students at Christ Methodist Church last year, her next project spoke to her.

"The children were so cute and so eager," she says. "Most schools teach some local history in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. They said, 'Why don't you write a children's book?' They really had the idea."

So she did.

Memphis: A Children's History is Magness' 10th book. Released last week, it is available at Burke's Bookstore, Davis-Kidd Booksellers, Babcock Gifts, and the Pink Palace Museum.

"Children are so bloody," Magness says. "They love things like the Sultana explosion and the Yellow Fever epidemic. You would think you wouldn't want to tell them those stories, but they just love it."

The book also includes stories about the Native Americans who traded at the Chickasaw Bluff, Ida B. Wells, W.C. Handy, and the wedding of the waters. (In celebration of the completion of the Memphis-Charleston railroad, they filled up a railcar with water from the Atlantic Ocean, brought it to Memphis, and then dumped it in the Mississippi River. And then they did the same thing with Mississippi River water.)

"I've been writing Memphis history for 20 years," Magness says. "All of this is in my head. I wanted to tell some of the fun stories that children would like, such as the first steamboat and the first fire engine."

Magness thinks local history is a good gateway to get children interested in history.

"When you tell that that Poplar Avenue is an old Indian trail, you can see their eyes light up," she says. "They get excited because it's something they can identify with."

She also hopes her book can supplement history texts in local classrooms. She's read the American History book that the Memphis City Schools use in their fourth-grade curriculum, and says that each chapter has a small mention of Tennessee. Only it's not really local.

"It's all about East Tennessee," she says. "There's not even any mention of the Mississippi River, for heavens' sake."

Cops and the Cycle of Crime

I've got to tell you, I've vacillated back and forth on the whole "Should police officers live within the city limits?" deal.

On the one hand, I kind of think that if you work for the city, you should live in the city. It's like how employees of Coke shouldn't be seen drinking Pepsi (and vice versa). Only it's worse, because it means taking Memphis money — paid by local taxpayers — and spending it on homes, goods, and services somewhere else.

I'm not saying you're biting the hand that feeds you, but you aren't nuzzling against it, either.

On the other hand, people are victims of crime or just hear about something horrible (say, the theft of Annabelle Hulgan's $8,000 custom-made wheelchair) and they think, understandably, I don't want to live in a place where that happens.

And that includes police officers and their families.

The irony is that one of the ways to attract new officers who would want to live inside the city limits is to lower the crime rate.

(And, frankly, that's the way to attract other people, too. That and taxes.)

If more officers — even ones that live outside Memphis — can help do that, it's something we need to consider, even if it's just as a stop-gap measure.

Yesterday, at the Leadership Academy's panel with young politicos, councilmember Shea Flinn said that lowering the crime rate would allow the city to get more economic development.

His new colleague, Kemp Conrad, said, "Memphis has lost 7 percent of its population in the last 10 years if you don't count annexation. That's scary. ... We need rapid change."

In the ideal world, I would want all the Memphis officers to live in Memphis. But the truth is — we don't live in an ideal world.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Young Politicos

After bringing Newark, New Jersey, mayor Cory Booker to Memphis to speak, the Leadership Academy felt like it needed a special event to follow the energetic young mayor.

The result was one of the group's Celebrate What's Right luncheons, this one with a panel of "young politicos."

During the luncheon — held today at the FedEx Institute of Technology — city school board members Martavius Jones and Tomeka Hart, County Commissioner Wyatt Bunker, and City Council members Shea Flinn and Kemp Conrad (as of yesterday) talked about how they decided to run for office, what their youth brought to their respective bodies, and how people could get involved.

"The average age of your district nine reps, now that we got rid of Ol' Man [Scott] McCormick, is 33," Flinn joked.

Moderator Darrell Cobbins went through a list of what he called Memphis' "rich history of young leaders" — which, if we're to be honest, made me sort of think that it's time to get on the stick:

Harold Ford Senior first got elected when he was 29, Fred Smith founded FedEx when he was 27, Dick Hackett became mayor of Memphis when he was 33, and Henry Turley founded his company when he was 36.

The Leadership Academy also played clips of last month's luncheon with Booker.

But the most important message from the young leaders seemed to be about getting involved, whether on a board or commission or just by showing up at meetings. Jones, for instance, began his public service as a member of the the Memphis Alcohol Commission.

(I can also personally vouch that he was a faithful attendee of the school board meetings. He told the crowd he attended them because, at 5:30 p.m. on Mondays, they were most convenient than the County Commission's 1:30 p.m. Monday meetings or the City Council's 3:30 p.m. Tuesday meetings.)

"The power does not lie in the elected official. You're only one in 9 or one in 13. It's the people's government, " Hart said. "We gauge the public's reaction on something by the 100 people who show up at a meeting in a city of 600,000."

When asked what issues Memphis needs to move on, the responses centered around education, crime, taxes, and, what Hart called the "umbrella of the issues," poverty.

"More immediately is lowering the crime rate," Flinn said. "That will allow us to get more economic development. ... In a more abstract way, we need to look at who we are as a community. We need to look at consolidation. We need to look at how we see race."


I'm sure this will interest my friend over at the Bird blog, and not just because her kids love the Wii (actually, I do too, except when it creates Wii elbow or Wii toe).

At any rate, the Natural Resources Defense Council just found that the energy consumed by video game consoles equals "an estimated 16 billion killowatt-hours per year," roughly the same annually as the city of San Diego.

"Through incorporation of more user-friendly power management features, we could save approximately 11 billion kWh of electricity per year, cut our nation's electricity bill by more than $1 billion per year, and avoid emissions of more than 7 million tons of CO2 each year."

At least 40 percent of American homes have at least one gaming console and the NRDC's study offers recommendations for users, manufacturers, and component suppliers for improving the efficiency of video game systems.

One tip: turning them off.

Users who turn off the newest Sony PlayStation 3 when they're not playing spend about $12 each year for electricity, compared to the $134 spent by players who leave the console on.

However, Nintendo's Wii doesn't use that much energy. Wii owners who leave the console on after use spend $10 a year on electricity, less than users of the other gaming systems who turn them off after use.

Addressing Police, Another Folo

UPDATE from the previous post: The council split along racial lines to vote down the 20-miles-from-the-county-line residency proposal, mostly due, it seems, to the belief that the police department is not hiring enough African-American officers.

A few months ago — and unfortunately this is all from memory — director Larry Godwin and a police academy representative were before the council. They were quick to point out that the racial split of officers follows the racial split of the city, meaning roughly 60 percent of officers are African American.

However, when they looked at the data on the applicants, the council noticed that the department had more African Americans applying than whites and the department was thus disproportionately turning away African American applicants.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Courting Cops

City Council is going to be interesting tonight.

In a some times heated executive session earlier this afternoon, the council discussed the recommendations that the police hiring task force presented a few weeks ago. One, based upon evidence that a previous group of applicants would not have applied if they had to live within the city limits, centered around the police department's residency requirement.

"There were a couple of issues that this council had discussed," said Council member Wanda Halbert. "One of them was the residency requirement. The media has inappropriately and incorrectly said that this group said to only relax the residency requirement."

The full council is expected to vote tonight on a resolution to allow police officers to live within 20 miles of the Shelby County line.

Longtime member Barbara Swearengen Ware has been against the measure from the beginning. She, along with Halbert, have implied the police department is turning candidates away unnecessarily.

"We don't have a lack of folk applying. We have folk who are being disqualified systematically," Ware said. "That's something we should be concerned about."

After Council Chair Myron Lowery said they had all been contacted by constituents about applicants being unfairly disqualified, Councilmember Bill Boyd said that he represented a wide area of the city and had not received "one piece of mail, one e-mail, one telephone call about anything being unfair" with MPD, and that when the chair said they all had, "we all haven't."

Halbert returned that she had a number of families contact her.

"Their boys have been wrongfully arrested; the tickets have been dismissed; and then that's used against them in police hiring," she said.

The executive session also included discussions of the fairgrounds redevelopment plan and the city's foreclosure crisis plan.

Journey to Iran Tonight

Tonight's the Francis Mah Travel Grant Lecture "Ancient and Sustainable: A Journey to Iran."

Presenter Babak Keyvani will start the journey with a brief history of Iran and its architecture. After that, he'll "explore Iran's historical and contemporary approaches to sustainability and what lessons can be learned through an examination of the use of architectural and natural elements in sustainable buildings and neigborhoods, and how buildings of the past have become integrated into the built environment today."

The evening begins with a reception at Howard Hall (2282 Madison) at 5 p.m., with the lecture running from 6 to 7:30 (for those of you who like to know what time things should be over).

It's free and open to the public and, since I can't go, someone out there should and then tell me all about it.

The travel grant is funded by the Mah family and TRO Jung|Brannen with additional support by AIA Memphis and the Architecture Department at the University of Memphis.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More Fun

Two more pictures from my Friday afternoon field trip ...

Bike Path

It couldn't be helped. After I read about Outdoors Inc. Annual Cyclocross Championship, I had to see it for myself.

So Sunday morning found me at Mud Island's Greenbelt Park, coffee cup in gloved hand, watching some truly amazing cyclists peddle up hills, glide down them, jump off their bikes (without stopping) to run up another hill with little obstacles, and then jump back on their bikes and ride away.

"Part of the sport is getting off the bike smoothly, because you come into the dismount going 15 to 20 miles per hour," Outdoors Inc. owner Joe Royer was quoted as saying in this week's Flyer. "Riders have to go over the hurdles, which are about 15 inches high, and then get back on the bike while they're still running. ... It's a very hard sport."

No doubt about that. Have you seen the hills at that park? Very steep. And I don't know how many laps the riders had to do, but it was definitely daunting.

After walking down close to the river to see the hurdles at the far end of the track, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to walk back up the hill, much less run up. Carrying a bicycle. And jumping over foot-high hurdles.

But it was a beautiful day and a great race. It doesn't look like the 2008 results are in yet, but here's a link to more information, if you're interested.

Fun with Pictures

Went on a secret field trip Friday afternoon (but forgot my camera cord so couldn't post the pics). The inside isn't much to look at right now ... a lot of concrete, some old motor bank equipment, scary elevators.

But the outside is still remarkable and the view from the top is pretty rad. Vertigo-inducing, but rad.

More later.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Local Love

You'll have to excuse us for saying so, but the Flyer has always been a bargain. Now we're bringing readers — and retailers — even more of a deal.

The Flyer is asking readers to pledge to spend $100 at locally owned shops this holiday season. In exchange, readers will receive weekly emails with "deals and steals" from area retailers.

"Right now, when the economy is what it is, it makes sense for people to try to spend locally as frequently as they can," says Penelope Huston Baer, Flyer advertising director. "We know it might be convenient to shop online or to shop the 'Big Boxes,' but if you do so, fewer of your dollars stay in the community."

According to Civic Economics, 68 cents of every dollar spent at a locally owned business stays in the community versus 43 cents if that same dollars is spent at a national chain.

If 1,000 people pledge to spend $100 at locally owned stores, the economic impact is $25,000 greater than if they had spent that same $100 at a national chain.

"We're not trying to encourage people to spend money they don't have," Huston Baer says. "Part of what we're telling everyone is to spend responsibly. But if you're going to spend, spend locally. It means so much to the community."

Shopping locally can also encompass area artists markets, consignment shops, and antique stores.

"I was talking with a local retailer and she said that she felt like so many people in Memphis wear the 'I shop in New York' as a badge of honor: 'I got this in Miami,' 'I got this in New York.' She wanted people to be proud so say they got something in Memphis," Huston Baer says.

"We're just trying to help our readers and our retailers find each other."

To make the pledge and get signed up to receive great deals, email "I pledge" to

Here's a list off the top of my head of local retailers (this is by no means all encompassing; it's what we call a start. And, yes, I alphabetized it.):

Baer's Den
Burke's Books
Divine Rags
Ella, Eve, and Isabella
Graham's Lighting Fixtures
James Davis
Lansky Bros. and Lansky 126 (which, btw, is actually having an expansion party and sale TODAY!)
Kittie Kyle
Mango Street Baby
Mode du Jour
Mona Spa
Oak Hall
Runway Boutique

Pass the Tissues

Everyone at my office is either sick, getting sick, or just gotten over this horrible, debilitating sickness called "the worst cold known to man."

I'm pretty sure that right now, as Google is tracking flu outbreaks with keywords such as "flu symptoms," "body aches," "fever," and "feel so bad I want to die," the internet search engine is homing in on 460 Tennessee St.

Google seems to think its keyword system can predict regional outbreaks 10 days before the Centers for Disease Control, (and it probably can, because is there anything Google can't do?) so this is just fair warning if you had any plans to visit chez Flyer.

I personally have not been infected yet but, judging by the runny noses and red eyes around me, it's only a matter of time and how much vitamin C I can consume.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Urban Chicken

Last week, after eating at Caritas Village and looking at their community gardens, a friend of mine pointed out a house in VECA with what looked like a number of chicken coops in the backyard.

I know of someone in Uptown that raises chickens, and a few months ago, I posted evidence of free-range chicken in East Memphis, too.

But what about downtown?

The Winston-Salem Journal had a story last week about how, in the age of "eating locally," city officials in downtown Greensboro has loosened regulations on raising chickens.

From that story:

"Earlier this year, [Amy] Williams and her boyfriend, Brian Talbert, found themselves fighting for the right to keep chickens. They also found themselves in the midst of a growing trend across North Carolina -- city dwellers who are taking "eating locally" beyond their vegetable gardens and farmers' markets by building coops and enjoying eggs from their backyard flocks. ...

In August, Talbert and Williams' efforts persuaded Greensboro city officials to loosen the ordinance covering backyard chickens and bees. Property owners with as little as 7,000 square feet of land can have hens -- as long as the coops are 25 feet from the property line and 50 feet from a neighbor's house. Roosters are banned. But chickens will lay eggs without the help of their male counterparts; they just won't be fertilized."

It's really an interesting story, with a lot of arguments for and against home-grown chicks, and it's an issue that may become more common with the economic situation. Of course, I don't know exactly what the laws are here ... I'm assuming it's against code ... but if I find out, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Boxed Out

A few years ago, the Shelby County School system was looking to convert an empty Schnucks into a temporary elementary school.

In researching that story, I stumbled on a project by Ohio artist Julia Christensen in which she looked at how communities around the country had re-used former big-box retail spaces, turning them into schools, churches, and rec. centers.

Her investigation has now resulted in a new book: Big Box Reuse.

From the website:

"Christensen crisscrossed America identifying these projects, then photographed, videotaped, and interviewed the people involved. The first-person accounts and color photographs of Big Box Reuse reveal the hidden stories behind the transformation of these facades into gateways of community life. Whether a big box store becomes a 'Senior Resource Center' or a museum devoted to Spam (the kind that comes in a can), each renovation displays a community’s resourcefulness and creativity — but also raises questions about how big box buildings affect the lives of communities."

A Federal Focus on Cities

Valerie Jarrett, the co-chair of President-elect Barack Obama's transition team, says that the new administration will include a new Office of Urban Policy. It will be charged with focusing on cities and will include a "comprehensive approach to urban development."

From Tuesday's All Things Considered on NPR:

"It is unclear who will lead the office, which will be tasked with advocating for cities and targeting programs in a 'logical and systematic way,' but it is a key position, according to Jarrett.

'For those of us who have worked in city governments across the country, we recognize how invaluable that person will be,' she says."

NPR's Melissa Block asked what the office would do that's not being done by other departments already. Jarrett replied, "What President-elect Obama recognizes is that it's really important that we take all of those different agencies and have a comprehensive approach to urban development. Having someone in the White House who is going to be an advocate for cities and who can take the variety of different federal programs and help target them in a logical and systemic way, I think is what president-elect Obama is trying to get at with this position."

According to Obama's website, the new office will strenthen the federal commitment to cities, with a strategy for metropolitan America and accountability that federal dollars earmarked fopr urban areas are "effectively spent on the highest-impact programs."

If you're interested in reading the new administration's plan for cities, click here (you'll have to download it as a pdf, however).

Who's Calling Your Wallet?

Cell phones are generally as small as or smaller than a wallet; now they're replacing them altogether.

USAToday had a story yesterday about how more than 50 million people in Japan — about half the country's cellphone users — have phones that double as a wallet.

From the story:

"Japan has pioneered not just the technology but also the business models that will pave the way for wallet phones to become a standard payment method in the future. Some 700 million people worldwide are expected to own such phones by 2013. ...

Success in Japan and in trials abroad have shown that the technology is ready for cellphones to replace credit cards, cash as well as serve as transportation and movie tickets and electronic keys for homes and offices."

The story notes that people already carry their cellphones with them everywhere they go and a financial function would be quite handy. It doesn't mention much about security — and as a person who is often misplacing her phone, that would be important — but says that Nokia has started selling wallet phones but growth is hampered by "costs stemming from an extra chip needed in phones for data security."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I <3 the NYT

People who know me know I'm basically a 12-year-old girl.

There's the candy obsession, the talking on the phone, the music. Seriously. If anyone ever saw my Netflix list or iTunes library, I would prolly be embarrassed (even tho I'm basically admitting as such to the internets right now).

But I'm not the only one.

The NYT has a totally precious story about Fred Flare, a retailer that urges its customers to "Stay cute!"

The story's writer initially tries to resist the shopgirls' cheeriness at Fred Flare's Brooklyn store:

"They were like human text messages from Smurfland, and they were freaking me out.

I was afraid they were going to turn and direct their happiness onto me like a laser, so I tried to ignore them by pretending to study a display of handmade teddy bears ($85) as if I were at the National Archives. The bears resembled sock monkeys and had funny, simple faces. One had a red yarny lopsided mouth. I let out a small involuntary guffaw, and within minutes I felt my little blackened, coal-size heart grow and become warm and fuzzy. They were just sooo CUTE!"

(The story also includes a picture of said bears, which are really cute, although $85 seems a little high.)

I know we're not in Brooklyn, so the store's website is here. Last year, I got a necklace from them that was a tiny silver joystick and it always makes me laugh when I wear it.

And for you non-12-year-old girls out there, here are some other NYT stories you might be interested in (just so you don't think I'm totally frivolous):

A Town Drowns in Debt as Home Values Plunge. In Mountain House, California, 90 percent of homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Yikes.

For South, a Waning Hold on Politics. Self-explanatory, I think.

How East River Bridges Stayed Toll-Free. With New York looking at a growing budget deficit, the city is thinking about reinstating bridge tolls.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tired of Trash

At Clean Memphis' event in Whitehaven this weekend, volunteers were definitely ready to roll.

"At first someone said, 'Oh, look, a tire. How strange!'" says Janet Boscarino, director of Clean Memphis. "Then we found 83 more."

All 84 tires, which will be recycled, were found in a ditch along one street. The group also collected enough trash to fill 104 bags.

Clean Memphis, a group dedicated to making Memphis the cleanest city in the country (again), will host another two clean-ups this weekend, Saturday, November 15th.

One will be at the Wolf River and will be in conjunction with Nike and Tennessee Mentorship.

The other, in Orange Mound, is in partnership with the city's office of Community Enhancement and is part of a city effort to board up abandoned houses, cut overgrown lots, and clean up the streets. Clean Memphis is still recruiting volunteers for the event.

For more information, visit the Clean Memphis website.

To read an earlier Flyer story about Clean Memphis, click here.

Grad Rates

The state's overall graduation rate for 2008 is up to 82.2 percent, but in Memphis City Schools, the graduation rate is still hovering in the mid-60s.

The Tennessee Department of Education released its 2008 state report card data this morning.

“Under Governor Bredesen’s leadership, Tennessee’s focus is on raising standards for student learning so all students have the opportunity to graduate well-prepared to pursue higher education or enter the workforce,” Education Commissioner Timothy Webb said in a press release. “Our aggressive path of improvement means a better chance for students and a stronger workforce for Tennessee.”

The 2008 graduation for MCS is 66.9, down from 69.6 last year. The state goal is 90 percent.

The 2008 graduation rate for the Shelby County Schools 96.1 percent, up 2.1 percentage points from last year.

In addition to graduation rates, the data identifies whether districts and schools met federal benchmarks set by the No Child Left Behind act, average scores on TCAP math, language arts, and writing assessments, and ACT scores.

A press release from MCS notes areas of progress for the district in K-8 math and reading scores, the number of highly qualified teachers in core courses, and 5th, 8th, and 11th grade writing. It also said graduation rates, ACT scores, and K-8 science and social studies were areas where the district could improve.

"While the district is moving ahead, in some areas, we have got to pick up the pace,” Memphis City Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash said in a written statement. “Our current reform initiatives are designed to achieve breakthrough results on these numbers and to get ahead of the curve on the new tougher state standards coming to Tennessee school districts in the next several years.”

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Dollar Dance

In the post-mortgage crisis economic climate, even the 99 cent store is having trouble selling goods for under $1. HUD, on the other hand, is still selling houses for a buck.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, HUD is selling foreclosed homes — for $1 — to local governments to create affordable housing:

"The dollar home program predates the housing meltdown, but it has become more active because of escalating foreclosures.

Governments nationwide used to buy about 100 such homes a year, according to HUD. This year that number has more than tripled in 10 months.

Still, 100-cent homes remain scarce. In Atlanta just two were on the market last month."

The story looks at a particular dollar house on Atlanta's Sims Street and shows how a home bought for $84,000 in 2000 ends up in HUD's bargain basement bin. Not surprisingly, all the plumbing and wiring have been stolen, but HUD also rejected investor offers in the tens of thousands of dollars.

To read a Flyer story about the local impact of foreclosures, click here.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Barack the Night

Just wanted to share with you two Barack Obama parties for this evening:

There is an Obama Victory Party at The Brinson Lounge, 341 Madison. It starts at 9 p.m. and people who come with Obama gear will get in free until 10 p.m. It is $10 after 10 p.m., but people who bring five other people along will get in free. (I think this is that socialism thing that everyone is talking about ...)

There is also a "I am Barack Obama" celebration at the Hattiloo Theatre tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. (Seems to me you could hit this one first, have some dinner, and then head over to the Brinson Lounge.) Hattiloo is at 656 Marshall and the invite says that "McCain supporters are welcome ... in the spirit of bringing the nation together! You will not be forced to change, although we ask you bring a bit of hope."

Odds and Ends

Some things for you newshounds to keep on your radar:

— The City of Memphis administration and the City Council will have a joint retreat this Saturday morning.

— There is also an Environmental Justice Conference (sponsored by the Sierra Club) Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Church of the River. The conference is entitled "Surviving & Thriving Now & In the Future." Might be worth a look. Pre-registration is required.

— The state's 2008 report card on education will be released Monday, November 10th, at 10 a.m.

Some other things that might interest:

— From USAToday: Cities rack up public artwork with bike racks. It's fun; it's utilitarian; it promotes a healthier, greener lifestyle. What's not to like? I liked the temporary bike racks that musician David Byrne did in NYC.

— The NYT's A.O. Scott calls "Soul Men" — which filmed briefly in Memphis — a raucous, rambling comedy: "It is also something of a bittersweet experience for fans of Isaac Hayes, who has an extended cameo as himself, and Bernie Mac, who plays Floyd Henderson, half of a has-been vocal duo reunited for one last show." For the rest of the review, click here.

— The Memphis Farmers Market's 2008 Winter Dinner Tour — in which six chefs try to create locally sourced meals through winter and spring — begins Sunday, November 9th, at the Majestic. For reservations, call 522-8555.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Concrete, Caimans, and HGTV

It's amazing what you can do with a little concrete.

Local concrete artist Bernhard Meck's Midtown home will be featured on an episode of HGTV's "Look What I Did!" tomorrow night.

The HGTV show features home projects that were done without a design consultant or a contractor.

"It's about the WOW! factor when people see the results and ask, 'You did this yourself?'" says the show's website. "It's an extravagantly themed wall mural and mosaic tiled patio that tell complete stories, a backyard roller coaster for the grandkids, a personal water park with a series of pools and grottoes connected by caves and channels."

The feature on Meck has aired before, but it sounds like it will be worth watching.

Meck's house is billed as a Tennessee Tropical Paradise, an includes turtles, Caimans, and South American fish, as well as bananas trees, a Mayan temple facade, and a waterfall from a skylight.

"The story of the show is the prototype rainforest vivarium that I created. It is a more elaborate version of an exhibit I built at my former store in Hollywood," he says. "I had over 10 alligators back then and sold them after the L.A. riots to Michael Jackson — yes, the one. He said, 'You have alligators? They scare me, but I'll take them.'"

Jackson could not be reached for comment.

Box Living

Containers aren't just for cargo anymore.

The Honolulu Advertiser has a story today about the increase of new homes constructed from recycled cargo containers.

And if there's one thing we seem to have a lot of in this county, it's cargo containers.

From the story:

"The simple layout of the house is an enclosed foyer between two pairs of containers, all of which is set in a foundation. Interior container walls are partially removed to make room connections. Exterior walls are insulated and feature windows on the broad sides and sliding glass doors on the ends. ...

On the Mainland, one driver of the trend is America's trade deficit that brings in millions of containers from China and other countries each year without a return trip for many of the boxes."

The story is actually a pretty good round-up of the "cargotecture" industry worldwide, including a start-up in New Mexico that wants to produce stacks of 320-square-feet studio apartments for workers in Mexico. It notes that there is a lot of potential there, but there are a lot of challenges to this type of housing, too. (Zoning, permits, etc.)

If you want more information, here's a link to how to design, buy, and build a container house.

From that site:

"So-called bulktainers make the best modules as they are made of metal and have been used to ship dry goods on transoceanic voyages. The container’s ID number can be used to determine the container’s age. Once a suitable cargo container (or containers) has been located and met the buyer’s specifications, you can negotiate a very reasonable price of a couple thousand dollars each, plus shipping to the purchaser’s location.

Depending on what the plans are for the project’s final use, designing cargo container homes is relatively uncomplicated. The modular format necessitated by the shape of the containers tends to limit freedom of expression but also lends itself to practical, form-follows-function formats. An excellent example is the pre-fab, DIY Container Home Kit from LOT-EK that employs 40-foot-long shipping containers joined and stacked in various configurations."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Homing In

If you haven't picked up your copy of the Flyer yet this week, John Branston, Bianca Phillips, Bruce VanWyngarden, and I did a package on local foreclosures and how they're affecting the housing market, the tax base, and the overall community.

I know, I know. You're thinking, "Foreclosures? Ugh. Boring."

And maybe you don't know anyone who has been foreclosed on and you're not in any danger of being foreclosed on, so why do you care?

But I would say it's a pretty important story.

When tax revenue relies on local property values, a widespread decline in those values could be very detrimental.

And you never know what might happen.

Bianca Phillips' piece is a first-person account of her recent brush with foreclosure when her apartment building was suddenly foreclosed on. It wasn't anything she was expecting — how could she? Just one day, out of the blue, there was a realtor at the building, telling the tenants they had two weeks to get out or they'd be evicted.

The tenants eventually got more time — you should read the piece if you get a chance — but as she learned, in these situations, tenants basically have no rights at all.

Bruce VanWyngarden wrote about his recent experience buying and selling a home. I don't think his experience is necessarily typical, but it is interesting to read a first-hand account of what's going on in the market.

And if that doesn't interest you, well, there's always News of the Weird (page 60).

UPDATE: You can read the stories from the foreclosure package here, here, here and here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dream Alive Artwork

John Quigley of Circle Up Now sent me these photos this morning from Sunday's "Keep the Dream Alive" event. Hundreds of people from Memphis and Amnesty International gathered on the riverfront to create an aerial tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The photos are cool, so I thought I'd share them. They were taken by Andrew Withers and Jeff Pantukhoff.

If you click on the image above, you can see the little people laying in Tom Lee Park and what looks to me to be white and purple umbrellas.

Addressing Police, Update

The City Council's public safety and homeland security committee voted today to send a police residency resolution to the full council.

The resolution would allow police officers to live within 20 miles of the Shelby County line.

"The police department has said that one third of the new hires have said that if they were required to live in the city of Memphis, they would not have applied," said Council member Jim Strickland. "I think crime is important enough to make this exception. That's why I'm voting for it."

Barbara Swearengen Ware and Harold Collins were against the resolution. Collins said he thought the council should wait and see how effective the MPD's new marketing campaign is before changing the residency requirement.

Ware has long been a vocal supporter of police officers living within the city limits.

"As we speak, [the police department] has 1,000 applications," she said. "Are you not willing to allow the process to work? Or are you just determined to get folk that don't live in Memphis to work and go back home to Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri?"

But council member Shea Flinn said the current restriction puts the city at a competitive disadvantage.

"If you go back to the task force, only one out of seven [applicants] gets hired. Out of 1,000, that's 140, and with our attrition, it's not enough," Flinn said. "Either we're going to address this need or we're not. ... Either you want your pride or you want your safety."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Manufacturing Wind

The NYTimes has an pretty long business story about traditional manufacturing areas turning to wind energy, including one factory town in Iowa that started manufacturing wind turbines after the Maytag plant closed.

From the story:

"No one believes that renewable energy can fully replace what has been lost on the American factory floor, where people with no college education have traditionally been able to finance middle-class lives. Many at Maytag earned $20 an hour in addition to health benefits. Mr. Versendaal now earns about $13 an hour.

Still, it’s a beginning in a sector of the economy that has been marked by wrenching endings, potentially a second chance for factory workers accustomed to layoffs and diminished aspirations."

In fact, one person quoted in the story calls wind energy the biggest ray of hope for the manufacturing industry.

The U.S. power grid can't accomodate all the energy that comes from wind power yet, but the good news is that, because wind turbines are as big and heavy as they are, the plants need to be close to the turbines' final destination. And that means jobs making those turbines probably won't be outsourced overseas.

“'I like this job more than I did Maytag,' Mr. Crady says. 'I feel I’m doing something to improve our country, rather than just building a washing machine.'”


I've been reading this book called Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us).

The author, Tom Vanderbilt, starts off with a discussion of early merging versus late merging and argues that it's better — in terms of using all possible road capacity, faster, safer, etc. — to be a late merger.

(That is, unless you mind people who haven't read the book glaring at you for being a late-merging jerk.)

There is a pretty interesting discussion about vehicular communication and how we don't get a lot of feedback on our driving. Everyone I know thinks they're a pretty good driver (with one exception) but we've all seen people on the road that we definitely wouldn't call good drivers. Vanderbilt says the disconnect is in the lack of feedback.

For instance, the car in front of you may be veering from one side of the lane to the other because they're eating a bagel and talking on their cell phone, but they're distracted so they don't notice and there's not really an easy way to for you to tell them (if you'd even want to).

Once again, I'm not quite done with the book yet, but my library fines are stacking up, so I think I'm as done as I'll probably get. (If you're interested in reading it, give it a few days and then check the central library's popular materials room. You know, the one with all the DVDs.)

Oh, Tom Vanderbilt also has a blog.