Friday, April 17, 2009

Dear John

I don't know quite how to say this.

You were my first blog and you taught me a lot: how to make links and moderate comments, how to do a blogroll, how to tag subjects and search my archives.

And it was all great. But I'm sorry; I have to move on.

We had a good run of it, almost a full year. And I'll never forget you and how user-friendly you are!

But I've met someone else. Someone a little closer to home.

I'm so sorry. If things were different ... maybe ... but they're not.

If you need me, you know you can always find me here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Door Dash Deadline — Today!

Memphis Heritage executive director June West has been floored by the response to the group's first Adapt A Door design challenge.

She expected they would have maybe 15 or 20 architects and interior designers sign up, but more than 70 groups or families have already registered. The participants will recreate the old doors into whatever they want, and the results will be auctioned off in August.

"We have about 150 doors. We salvage a lot of good, solid wood doors," West says. "We thought these would last for three years."

What she calls the more spectacular doors, salvaged out of older buildings, generally sell at Memphis Heritage's semi-annual auction.

"I think some people are doing it so their kids can paint on a door. They might be starting a bad trend around their house," she says.

The Door Dash is Saturday, April 25th, at the old marine hospital near the National Ornamental Museum. Door-dashers will first have a 30-minute window to look at all the doors and, because of the large number of participants, be allowed into the building in groups to choose their door.

Deadline to sign up for the door design challenge is today at 4 p.m. and can be done by calling Memphis Heritage at 901.272.2727. The $25 registration fee also includes two tickets to the silent auction in August.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

United We Planned

My friends over at the Coalition for Livable Communities wanted me to mention their upcoming Pizza with the Planners event on April 23rd.

The latest in a series of conversations with city and county planners, this Pizza with the Planners will talk about the new Unified Development Code, currently under consideration.

I think it's pretty important. Here's an excerpt from one of my recent columns on the subject:

"When Harbor Town — one of Memphis' most celebrated neighborhoods — was being constructed, it was technically illegal. Still is, actually.

Under current zoning regulations, the neighborhood's streets are too narrow; the house lots are too small; and the grocery store and other non-residential uses are prohibited. Developer Henry Turley (who is part-owner of the Flyer's parent company) had to get a special permit to build the development.

'It could not have been done under the current zoning ordinance,' says Don Jones, project manager for the new Memphis and Shelby County Unified Development Code. 'It would have been a patchwork quilt of zoning districts: one for this block, another for that one.'"

But the Unified Development Code, which should go before members of the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission very soon, makes a variety of housing types and neighborhoods permissible.

To read the entire column, click here. Or to go straight to the source, click here.

The event will be held at the Central Library. It's free but reservations are required and can be made by e-mailing Sarah Newstok at

In the Junkyard

Last week, I had the pleasure of hanging out with artist Lisa Williamson at the old Marine Hospital's maintenance building.

The site is the future home of Junkyard Memphis, a museum inspired by St. Louis' City Museum.

The article is out on stands today, or if you want to see the site, located near the National Ornamental Metal Museum, as well as some pictures of Williamson's inspiration, you can watch the accompanying video.

And, yes, if you were at the Flyer's 2008 Best Of party, you might recognize the building.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Test Drive a Scion, Drink Coffee, Support UrbanArt

Morning, sleepy heads. I would have mentioned this earlier, but I was unfortunately delayed by a blockwide power outage here at beautiful sunny 460 Tennessee Street. Phones were down, people were cussing, and those brave souls venturing into out already cavernous restrooms had to use their cell phones to illuminate the way.

At any rate, the point is that today and tomorrow, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (and yes, I know it is already after 11 today. Like I said: Power outage.) you can stop by Otherlands on Cooper and test drive a Toyota Scion.

For doing so, you will receive a free $15 gift card, "with the option of donating a portion towards producing UrbanArt's series of community murals this summer."

I think I may have mentioned recently about UrbanArt director John Weeden's war on ugly landscapes and his feelings about the transformative power of murals.

I completely agree. There's one mural I always notice when I'm in Fort Worth. It's really simple — just a zipper across the building, unzipping to reveal blue sky and a feather — but it's in the middle of ugly buildings and surface parking lots, and it completely transforms the nature of the block.

Apparently the building used to house a Dickies factory. Whenever I see it, it just makes me laugh and I think that goes a long way in diminishing any ugliness around it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Urban Alleys

I think we've talked about Chicago's green alleys before — especially when the stormwater flooding/Overton Park detention basin plan came to light — but USAToday has an interesting story about how cities across the country are beginning to see alleys in a new way:

"Rather than dismissing them as dark, dank and often dangerous spots used mainly for trash pickup and garage access, they're treating them as valuable real estate that can help the environment and improve city life.

Cities are getting rid of unsightly trash bins and creating things such as gardens and sidewalk cafes to attract people to these long-ignored spaces. In many cities, alleys are being resurfaced with porous materials that can absorb rainwater and reduce runoff."

In Los Angeles and Chicago, they're using alleys to reduce runoff; in Seattle, they banned dumpsters, recyling bins, and compost containers in the city center.

(Speaking of that, Memphis' Center City Commission took a similar step last fall as part of a pilot program and is actually modeled after Seattle's program. Read about that here.)

With Midtown's drainage issues, and its abundance of alleys, it might be worth looking at what Chicago's doing. I don't know what percentage of the alleys are paved and what percentage aren't, but with the storm water problems some neighborhoods experience, it would be better than nothing.

Flyer Spyer: Mischa Barton

We hear that Mischa Barton (Marissa Cooper from The O.C.) was in town over the weekend and eating at the Rendezvous with a male companion. Apparently, she looked thin (not a big surprise for O.C. fans or Perez Hilton readers) and was wearing a short purple and pink dress and Chuck Taylors.

Anyone know why she was in town? Hit us up:

Friday, April 10, 2009

Shelby Farms Community Gardens Update

For the community gardeners out there, the gardens haven't been staked yet.

I was out there late yesterday afternoon and they hadn't been done. With the rain and the holiday weekend, it's not likely it will happen within the next few days.

I know people have been asking and watching, so I thought I'd put that out there.

But if anyone does go out there and see they have been staked, hit me up:


On my way home Wednesday, I was praying I wouldn't run into anyone I know.

My friend Beth (aka Memphis Roller Derby's Akilles Wheel) recently started doing henna and when I heard she needed guinea pigs to practice on, I signed up to help.

I picked out a design that would go on the back of my hand — it seemed the best space given that henna goes on in a paste and needs to dry for eight hours — and Beth got right to work. After she was done, however, it was late in the evening and there was a question of how I was going to sleep.

But Beth was prepared. She packed the design with cotton and then wrapped cling wrap all around the hand and wrist. It looked ridiculous — like a recession era homemade cast — but it worked.

Here is what it looks like today:

You can see other samples of her work here. Or you can find her at Memphis In May's Beale Street Music Fest.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Flyer 3.0

If you're wondering why the Flyer site hasn't been updated in, oh, about 24 hours, it's because we're in the midst of a change. A new leaf, if you will.

Sometime today, our new website will be uploaded. I'm not sure what change you, the reader, will see immediately. But suffice it to say, there will be changes.

In addition to all the things you already know and love — our online content, our Justin Timberlake updates, our breaking news — we'll be adding several blogs (like this one, hint, hint. But more on that later) and social networking components. (More on that later, too.)

So I guess just stay tuned. And if you dial up the Flyer site and it looks super-awesome (or wonky), now you know why.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Flyer Four

Coach Cal completely messed up my bracket.

No, not that one. My Memphis Flyer Memphis Madness bracket. I completely had Justin Timberlake going up against A C Wharton in the championship.

Then Coach Cal got disqualified — for reasons I'm sure are obvious — and Cohen moved ahead to beat Wharton (which I suppose Coach Cal might have, too, if I had really thought about it).

And I suppose I didn't think Ginnifer Goodwin would beat Justin, but she's super-cute, so maybe it's to be expected.

At any rate, the Championship is ongoing now: Cohen against Al Green. Click here if you want to vote.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Balanced Budget

Memphis mayor Willie Herenton told the City Council's executive committee this afternoon that the budget he plans to present April 21st will include no property tax increase, no layoffs, and a three percent raise for city employees.

"If you have any anxieties about our budget next year, I hope I can relax some of those anxieties," Herenton told council members.

Herenton recently attended the national conference of mayors and said he heard about horrible budget woes other cities were facing.

"I ask you not to look at Memphis in isolation, look at Memphis in the global economy," he said. "I felt good being the mayor of Memphis as compared to ... Atlanta or Philadelphia."

In the last two weeks, Herenton has been meeting with the city's bargaining unions; he has already assured those groups that there will be no city employee layoffs.

"We're not closing fire stations; we're filling police classes," he said. "This is a strong city, even in a declining fiscal condition."

Council member Barbara Swearengen Ware called the news "a sigh of relief."

Reuse Round-Up

Some things to bide the time, if you're interested:

Slate has an piece by Michael Levi about the green jobs program's chance at saving the economy and how he thinks it would be better to focus on each piece individually. (I'm not convinced; without the economic component, quite frankly, I'm not sure the green component would be addressed at all.)

The NYTimes is asking about "The Economy's 'Green Shoots,' Real or Imagined" — and at least one of its experts uses the term "suckers' rallies" — as well as uses for abandoned malls. Not that we have any of those here or anything.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Empire Waste

Heard about this while I was sitting in DFW this morning: The Empire State Building is going green.

Like our own federal building, the once world's tallest building is getting a green renovation, one that is expected to cut the building's energy use by 38 percent a year, saving $4.4 million annually.

From the NYTimes:

"Although the retrofit was specifically designed for the iconic Art Deco office building at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue and its massive features — 102 stories, 2.6 million square feet, 6,500 windows and 73 elevators — the energy-efficiency improvements are meant to serve as a model for other office buildings around the world, said Anthony E. Malkin, president of Wien & Malkin, the building’s owners.

He said upfront costs are often a deterrent for retrofitting older buildings, but the energy savings for the building , built in 1931, are expected to pay back those costs in only about three years."

Also, and I love this:

“'People associate greening with expense and compromise,' Mr. Malkin said. 'We’re trying to prove: no compromise and payback.'"

The retrofit includes upgrades to the electrical and ventillation systems, since most of the energy costs at the building come from the light and HVAC systems.

The NYT says that 78 percent of the city's greenhouse gas emissions come from its buildings. I think nationally that number is smaller, but a significant chunk of the gases that cause global warming come from buildings.

Both New York mayor Micheal Bloomberg and former president Bill Clinton were at the press conference this morning to announce the building's green switch.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Overton Park Petition

Park Friends have started a petition against the proposed detention basin in Overton Park.

Essentially the city engineering department has chosen the greensward as the location for a new 12 to 14 foot deep detention basin to help with storm water drainage and flooding in nearby neighborhoods. To read more, click here.

Interested parties can sign the petition at Burke's Books, Breakaway Athletics, the Art Center, and Otherlands.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

One Wall at a Time

When UrbanArt executive director John Weeden spoke at last month's Urbanexus event, sponsored by Next American City magazine, he talked about how they were going to be "painting the town, literally."

"Visitors to Memphis see a crumbling and ugly landscape. That has to change," Weeden said. "I'm declaring war on ugly landscape."

One battle is well underway at Madison and Third where Chicago artist Jeff Zimmerman and Rhodes College students are constructing a five-story mural next to Redbirds stadium.

Called "A Note of Hope," the project is in collaboration with Rhodes' Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts (CODA) and the building's owner, Chick Hill.

At the Urbanexus event, Weeden noted that paint was a relatively easy and, especially in this economic climate, cost-effective way to radically transform an area.

I can't wait to see what this looks like when it's finished. Pre-trolley, I used to love driving down Madison to get to work in the mornings: the smell of the WonderBread factory, cresting over Danny Thomas, catching site of the morning sun glinting off of the Gassner building, seeing the city.

This just might have me detouring down Madison.

Greater Greenline

Earlier the week, the Shelby County Commission voted to allocate almost $600,000 to fund the Greater Memphis Greenline, a seven-mile section of former CSX rail line. Purchase of the property is coming from almost $5 million in grant funds from the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy and county money will go toward construction.

Eventually, Greater Memphis Greenline would like to develop 13 miles of abandoned railway that would stretch from Midtown to Cordova.

Before the commission vote, I talked to GMG head Bob Schreiber. Since then, I've received a Greater Memphis Greenline case statement done by a former Leadership Academy. The document cites increased property values, healthier lifestyles, decreased crime, better air quality, and attraction and retension of local employers as the benefits of greenlines.

"The National Park Service estimates that propertis on and around greenlines increase in value anywhere from 5 to 32 percent," reports the study. "To illustrate, the Nashville Greenway Commission noted an average $30,000 jump in the selling price for houses directly on their greenline."

The report goes onto say that greenlines might even reduce public expenditures by reducing the infrastructure costs associated with more developed areas. The study also talks about greenlines reduce sound pollution by at least 8 decibels and help area residents exercise more.

All in all, there really doesn't seem to be a downside. I know that GMG have been working on this project for quite some time and I just want to thank them for sticking with it. This is a good thing, and it wouldn't have happened without them.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Old Building, New Leaf

I just heard that the federal building in Memphis will be getting a $3 million GREEN upgrade.

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, federal facilities around the country are getting more than $4 billion in energy efficient renovations and improvements.

I don't know exactly what's involved, but these types of projects are good for institutionalizing, literally, a new way of doing things. More deets as I get them.

Abandoned Homes

First it was homeowners walking away from foreclosures. Homeowners who knew they couldn't make their payments were walking away from their houses before they were foreclosed on, so that they could get other housing before their credit was ruined.

Now banks are walking away, as well.

The NYTimes reports that banks are finding it less valuable to take possession of a foreclosed home than to just walk away from the whole ordeal.

It sounds like this could be a silver lining for some homeowners, but that's not the case:

According to the NYT, "The so-called bank walkaways rarely mean relief for the property owners, caught unaware months after the fact, and often mean additional financial burdens and bureaucratic headaches. Technically, they still owe on the mortgage, but as a practicality, rarely would a mortgage holder receive any more payments on the loan. The way mortgages are bundled and resold, it can be enormously time-consuming just trying to determine what company holds the loan on a property thought to be in foreclosure."

Finding out who owns the mortgage is the same problem that foreclosure mitigation specialists and lawyers run into when they're trying to either have a bank with a homeowner or file a class action lawsuit.

Says one industry inside: “The whole purpose of foreclosure is to take title of the property, sell it and recoup what money you can. It’s just a sign of the times that things are so bad no one wants to take possession of the property.”

And that's crazy, that something that is most Americans' largest investment, just isn't worth the court costs and legal fees.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sprouted ... then Stomped

I don't know if I've mentioned this here — and apparently I'm too lazy to use the search function — but this year I planned to plant a garden.

(This was before Michelle Obama started hers. I'm not saying she copied me, but maybe we're both plugged into the same culture zeitgeist.)

First, I thought a container garden was the way to go. (I've got limited space and I found this handy web guide, coincidentally done by a friend of mine.)

Then another friend of mine pointed out that I might not have as much light as I think. And he was right. After careful study, it looks like any one spot near my house will only get about four hours of light and most vegetables need a nice round eight hours.

So I signed up for a community garden at Shelby Farms.

While I was waiting for the master gardeners or the county or whoever to plow the community plots and then stake them (you have to know where to plant), I went ahead and started some little seedlings on my windowsill.

They sprouted and looked cute and sat there on the sill for a week or so (or more) and still no Shelby Farms staking (which is totally fine; it's been raining a lot). So no planting for my seedlings.

But last weekend, some of them HAD to be moved. They were growing out of their little beds. I was still going to do a small container garden anyway, so I planted them in my little containers, hauled them into the front yard and dusted off my dirty palms with a nice "Good job" to myself.

Sprouts that haven't been eaten by feral cats

And then yesterday night, I came home well past dark and glanced at my containers to see ... nothing. I peered closer (and held up my phone as a flashlight) and all my previously cute, healthy seedlings looked raggedy and sad.

I checked them out again this morning and they looked even worse than I thought in the harsh light of day. It looked like they had been chewed up and spit out.

So, round one goes to the squirrels/chipmunks/birds/feral cats/neighbors. But, as Stephen Colbert says, you're on notice.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Way We Roll

During the next 12 months, bicycle advocate Anthony Siracusa will ride on four continents.

Siracusa was one of 40 college seniors awarded this year's Thomas J. Watson fellowship. Under the fellowship, he will travel around the world to study bicycle cultures.

"I just decided that I was going to try and understand what bicycling communities around the world were composed of," he says. "None of the cities selected were created as bicycle cities. I'm interested in how cities reinvent themselves into more livable, more walkable, bike-able places."

Siracusa will start his journey in Copenhagen, a city where 50 percent of travel is done by bicycle.

"They try to grow that 10 percent a year. That's the goal. They don't always reach it, but that's the way they roll," he says. "There, you're not a bicyclist. You're just a Dane. Here, you're a cyclist first. There, it's just a way of life."

From there, he will head to the Netherlands and Germany before going to Melbourne, Australia, where "bicycles outsold cars for the eighth year in a row."

Then he'll spend time in Hong Kong and Beijing before ending his trip in Central America. Under the guidelines of the fellowship, Siracusa is not allowed to return to the United States for a year.

"What I'm after is nothing short of personal transformation. I've lived here my whole life," Siracusa says. "I think being away will help put things in perspective for me."

Siracusa's other dream is to help transform Memphis into the premier Mid-South city for cycling in the next 10 years.

"I hope to lend additional credibility for the bicycling and walking movement and, ultimately, about livability," he says. "For the sake of the city and its longterm health and sustainability, we need to begin sooner rather than later."

"We're not talking about investing trillions of dollars. We're talking about small modifications that can change this city in fundamental ways."

Siracusa will leave Memphis in early July.

Friday, March 27, 2009

One More Step

After four years in the works, the proposed CSX greenline trail is steps away from becoming a reality.

Monday afternoon, the County Commission is scheduled to vote on the purchase of 7 miles of the former CSX railway. Members of Greater Memphis Greenline are asking supporters to fill the chamber at 1 p.m.

Greater Memphis Greenline president Bob Schreiber says greenlines improve public health and cohesion, among other things.

"Greenways in general have been shown to improve property values 25 to 50 percent, depending on how close you," Schreiber says. "At worst, crime rates stay the same as the surrounding neighborhoods. ... Security is an issue some people around here are concerned about."

Plans for the greenline include motion sensors, lighting and, possibly, call boxes.

In many instances, crime on a greenline actually goes down because of the increased number of people using the area.

Schreiber hopes this $4.5 million project will be just a "small piece of the puzzle."

"We're hoping the day will come when all the rail will circumvent the city," Schreiber says. "When that day comes, all the railways will become open to some sort of better transportation, whether it be trails or lightrail or whatever."

Door Design Contest

Memphis Heritage always has very interesting fundraisers.

Its latest — the Adapt A Door Design Challenge — is no different.

On April 25th, Memphis Heritage will hold the Donut Door Dash at 10 a.m. Participants will pick one of Memphis Heritage's doors — where did they come from? I don't know — for a cost of $25 each.

Then (I think) you take your door home, nurture it, water it, open it, shut it, and, most importantly, transform it into a chair, a table, a rack, or whatever else you want.

The doors-turned-artwork will be displayed at Memphis Heritage's Howard Hall on August 22nd.

Hmm, I wonder if there will be a "door" prize.

Interested parties need to sign up by April 9th. For an entry form, go to Memphis Heritage's website.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


The Sierra Club will present Sustainability in Shelby County: The Next Chapter tonight.

The event, which will be held at Trinity United Methodist at Galloway and Evergreen, begins with refreshments at networking at 6:30 p.m., followed by a panel discussion at 7 p.m.

The forum will discuss the results of Sustainable Shelby, as well as "the promise of what implementation of these proposals means for Memphis and Shelby County."

Sustainable Shelby, an initiative led by Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, has come up with lots of good recommendations for future growth in the area. I've been really happy to see that the majority of people polled in Shelby County want to live in neighborhoods that are healthier, greener, and more walkable.

If we don't implement the report's ideas, however, it means nothing, so the coming months are going to be the test.

Little Nuggets

Sometimes I come across things and I think, that's just like here. Or, the good folks of Memphis should see this.

'Cause, you know, it's nice to have some perspective.

For instance, what if the Pyramid, our Pyramid rather, was part of a golf course? Hmm, maybe I should go back and do the Mud Island survey again. There's not much land, so it might need to be a miniature one.

Or, you know how there was a proposal to permit wine sales in grocery stores in Tennessee? The same thing is happening in New York. The governor has proposed selling wine in grocery stores in order to raise revenue from licensing fees.

From the NYTimes:

“'It would be like a dream come true,' said David Grotenstein, the general manager for Union Market, which has two high-end stores in Park Slope, Brooklyn. 'It’s like the lost cross-merchandising element of retail — we seem so backward and primitive here in New York.'"

I know people saying the exact same thing here. And, the exact opposite thing, too.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

For Legal Reasons, This is Not The Sweet 16

The votes are in and the Memphis Flyer Memphis Madness bracket is rolling right along.

Now 16 Memphians are one step closer to the Flyer Four.

In Round Two, there was an upset or two. For instance, Memphis Zoo president Chuck Brady took out Harold Ford Jr. Maybe he has a future in politics ...

WMC-TV's Dave Brown defeated his colleague Joe Birch, while the Flyer's own John Branston wrote blogger Paul Ryburn out.

In the next round, hometown hotties Ginnifer Goodwin and Justin Timberlake are matched up. (I can see the gossip columns now.)

Local music heavyweights Al Green and Jerry Lee Lewis will go note for note, and the FBI's My Harrison takes on A C Wharton. (I can see the headlines now.)

Voting begins for Round Three Thursday afternoon (which reminds me, I guess I need to code it. Hmmm.)

The full list of Suite 16-ers: Ginnifer Goodwin, Justin Timberlake, Al Green, Jerry Lee Lewis, Leslie Ballin, Dave Brown, Geoff Calkins, John Branston, A C Wharton, My Harrison, Steve Cohen, John Calipari, Fred Smith, Judge Joe Brown, Chuck Brady, and the Neelys.

(Next year, I think we're totally going to do an entire bracket of restaurants and restaurateurs. There's too much good food in this town not to.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mud Island Skate

The Riverfront Development Corporation held its first public input meeting for Mud Island last night.

I couldn't attend, but there's another meeting tonight in North Memphis at 5:45 p.m., one next Tuesday in South Memphis, and one Thursday, April 4th, at the Botanic Gardens.

Unfortunately, I can't make any of those, either.

Fortunately, there is also an online survey component for those of us who are obviously way over-scheduled.

My friends over at Skatelife Memphis make a compelling argument for the inclusion of a skatepark.

Skateboarding has a high number of outings per year per participant, according to 2006 figures, and 72 percent of skateboarders are willing to travel 10 miles or more to their favorite skatepark.

What with all the skateparks we have here now — um, none — I'm sure there would be no trouble finding people to use it.

And at a price tag of $3 million for an 80,000 sq. foot park, compared to other public facilities where the majority of participants eat popcorn and drink coke while highly paid athletes perform, it kind of seems like a bargain.

UPDATE: Having now filled out the RDC's survey for the riverfront, I would suggest trying to go to one of the meetings. They asked several questions that I wish I could have qualified my answers for, such as, I don't think it's difficult to get to Mud Island, but the last time I tried to go, I was turned away by the guard on duty. Which made it difficult to get there. And I don't even really know why we were turned away. Private function maybe?

Also, they included several pictures of waterfronts and asked "which one of these water's edges would be best for Mud Island?" and I'm looking at the pictures and thinking, "What's the difference? Do any of them connect to the water? What am I looking at?" And, in one instance, "Are those people sunbathing?"

When in doubt, I went with the one where it looked like there was the most chance of someone falling in the water, b/c that meant there were actually people in the picture and that the river wasn't some thing you just stared out at from afar.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Bracket

In my ongoing quest to pit Memphians against other Memphians that they might have similarities with (be they of the job, name, or looks variety) in a virtual Celebrity Deathmatch without the claymation or the funny, the second round of the bracket is up.

Probably the best way to access it is to go here.

In the first round, the big winners were A C Wharton, John Calipari (worth every penny), judge Joe Brown. Other winners included Dick Hackett, Justin Timberlake, WMC-TV 5, Al Green, Kathy Bates, Angus McEachran, and Paul Ryburn. But can they make it to the Sweet Sixteen?

To see the full list, you've got to continue onto the next round. Sorry, them's the rules.

p.s. My money is on a Wharton/Timberlake matchup in the finals.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Making it Less Miserable

For me, yesterday's theme was "Making Memphis a Better Place to Live."

After giving a speech at the Naval Base on the environment for Women's History Month with the Wolf River Conservancy's education director Cathy Justis, I went to Second Presbyterian for the Leadership Academy's Memphis 101 session.

County mayor A C Wharton said one of the area's main challenges was we have "too much government for too few people," a reference to our dual-headed system.

Wharton said he had recently met with a minister in Singapore and asked if the country didn't want an office in the middle of the United States to go with their current offices on either coast. The minister was interested and wanted to know how to make it happen. Wharton said he could sign immediately, but they'd have to also get the city on board.

"His attitude was, 'I'm busy.' Why can't we just take care of it now?" said Wharton. "If we could get rid of that, we could do business ... Our government is, as I see it, the ice on the wings of our plane to success."

Wharton also said he felt the county should be responsible for both funding the schools (as two separate systems) and the health department, budget items that the two governments have been squabbling over recently, among others.

"We've brought in experts to see how much our share of the Pyramid is worth, so we can see how much money to take out of our left pocket and put in our right pocket, so we make sure we don't cheat ourselves," Wharton said.

Also, I found this interesting: former chamber pres told the group that Norfolk Southern is apparently double-tracking (so they can have trains traveling in both directions) from here to Dallas. Just a little logistics/transportation info for you.

After Memphis 101, I hit up the Next American City URBANEXUS event at the Stax Museum. Panelists John Weeden of UrbanArt, New Path's Cardell Orrin, LaunchMemphis' Eric Mathews and Stax's Tim Sampson, among others, each gave a four-minute presentation about their organizations and civic engagement.

Before the standing room only crowd, many of whom were fairly young, the panelists told what they were doing — painting murals, helping entrepreuners, envigorating the political process — to make Memphis a better place to live.

I think it's interesting that so many people are invested in making Memphis better. We obviously acknowledge that we have deficiencies (no thanks to all the lists) but instead of leaving, there are so many people who want to stay and fight. (Fight might not be the right word, but you know what I mean.)

And I think if we could figure out what makes them want to stay and fight, then I think THAT — whatever it is — is what we should build a brand around.

Because, really, if people are interested in staying, despite the problems with crime and eduation, there is obviously a very powerful lure here. But what is it?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Memphis Madness

Can't get enough of brackets?

We have another one for you. A toe-to-toe match-up of all of your favorite Memphians.

Following the lead of American Idol, we pit Alexis Grace against Lil Rounds. Will the result be the same as it was last night?

In other battles, Al Green takes on B.B. King; Steve Cohen takes on Steve Gaines; Drake goes up against Zeke.

You pick the winners. First round begins today — and it's split into four separate surveys, just FYI, so you'll need to click on all four — and second round will begin Saturday.

I don't have a picture of the bracket, but by looking at the order of the competitions, you can tell who will be facing off (winner permitting in the second and subsequent rounds).

We begin with entertainment — Click Here to take survey

Then move on to media — Click Here to take survey

politicians — Click Here to take survey

and all the rest. Click Here to take survey

Have fun! Voting begins ... now!

Super Thursday

I'll be in and out all day (no, I'm not sneaking off to watch basketball somewhere) but watch the Memphis Flyer site for our Memphis Madness bracket.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

All Wet

A few days ago, I promised that my column would contain an interesting term for a torrential downpour.

Well, I had 14 pages of notes to weave into 800 words about the proposed detention basin in Overton Park and that one phrase — no matter how much I liked it — simply did not make the cut.

But, luckily, someone invented the internet, and now we have unlimited room to say whatever we might have left out elsewhere.

So I was talking with George Cox, senior design engineer at the city, and he said that the proposed basin would drain within eight to 10 hours of a hard rain. Then he followed it up with this:

"Who's walking their dog when it's raining like a frog-strangler?"

If this is already part of your vocabulary, I just have one question: Why haven't you said it in front of me?

Cox also explained that the term "100-year storm" means there is a 1 percent chance in ANY year of a storm that heavy occurring. A 20-year storm has a 5 percent chance of it occurring any year; a 5-year storm has a 20 percent chance of happening each year. So you could, conceivably, have two 100-year storms two years, or even two weeks, in a row.

But that's enough math for today.

For those who want more info, there is a new Save the Greensward website. Or you can look for your brand-new Flyer — it's got a gun on the cover and should be on the Memphis streets by this afternoon — and read my column.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Outer Limits

With I-269 looming on the horizon, the Coalition for Livable Communities wants citizens to be in the loop. So to speak.

The CLC will host a community forum about the new super beltway, an interstate that will stretch to Millington, out to the Shelby and Fayette county line and down into Mississippi.

“These outer loops can suck resources out of existing neighborhoods,” says CLC program manager Sarah Newstok. “We know the project is happening. Let’s make it beneficial for our region, not just for economic development along the corridor.”

It might be difficult for people living in the city’s core to understand how the future I-269 affects them, but the local population isn’t growing. It’s spreading out.

“Any resources spent farther out on the I-269 corridor are resources that could have been spent where people are living now,” Newstok says.

The interstate may be funded with federal dollars, but area roads and interchanges linking with it will be funded locally.

These types of developments also have a tendency to rob retail investment from older neighborhoods.

“We need to have a plan in place where development is done in a sustainable manner, and we’re not creating the same thing at each intersection along the way,” forum panelist Les Binkley of Boyle Investment says.

Though Boyle is a developer, Binkley says the company shares the same interests as community groups.

“We want to see our developments thrive and increase in value, not just capture a fleeting market that is there temporarily,” he says.

The forum is 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, March 21st, at Shelby Farms’ main lodge. It’s free, but a reservation is required and can be made by e-mailing

Friday, March 13, 2009

Flood Waters

I didn't know the term "gulley-washer" until I moved to Memphis. The first time I heard it, I was in my car, driving down a four-lane Poplar Avenue (the two outside lanes were flooded), and someone on the radio said "this is a real gulley washer."

I thought, that is exactly what this is. (I learned another term for it today that is even better but you'll have to read the Flyer next week to hear that one.)

Several years ago, when the city enacted the storm water fee, I wrote about flooding in several areas of the city.

And I've been following the proposed Overton Park detention basin since it was announced/came out on CPOP's blog a week or so ago.

The more I talk to people about it, the more I think this city needs to have a serious conversation about storm water and how it should deal with it.

I've talked to concerned citizens, park advocates, homeowners who have had thousands of dollars of damage to their homes because of flooding, and city engineers, and the one thing that keeps coming up — sometimes into people's basements — is that there is nowhere for the storm water to go.

The city seems to be trying to fix the problems, but we can't just keep making creek channels larger and creating detention facilities on every large piece of vacant, public land. We need to stop the problem where it starts.

As the Sierra Club's James Baker said at Wednesday night's VECA meeting, the Overton Park project is, at best, "a bandage that covers a festering wound, not anything that heals it."

We need to start looking at impermeable surfaces and how to limit them. Chicago and Portland both have green-street initiatives to helf manage storm-water run-off. In Palo Alto, California, the storm drain utility offers rebates to residents who use rain barrels, cisterns, vegetated roofs, and permeable pavements, all of which reduce the amount of run-off.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

City Considering Other Options for Overton Park

Or, VECA Meeting Licks Creek Idea ... though it hasn't. Yet.

Last night, city engineer Wain Gaskins told VECA members and citizens concerned about a detention basin in Overton Park that the city was evaluating other alternatives. The proposed basin is to alleviate flooding in nearby Midtown neighborhoods.

However, Gaskins also said that people had several misconceptions about the detention basin. For instance, it "doesn't collect debris the way some people think it does." And that the Overton Park greensward already has an 18-foot elevation difference.

He also noted that Second Presbyterian Church's soccer field is a detention basin and they haven't had any problems with it.

Residents at the meeting were not convinced by his assurances.

One asked about the depth of the Second Pres. basin. Gaskins replied it was three to four feet. Another detention basin at CBU is going to be six to eight feet deep.

Another resident asked whether the field would just slope down to the 18 feet or if it would be an 18 feet deep bowl.

"We do have to shape some sort of bowl to detain the water. However, it's a huge bowl. It's so large you might not even notice it being a bowl," Gaskins said.

Judging from its reaction, the crowd was pretty sure they would still notice it.

The city is still in the planning process for the basin, and both VECA and Park Friends, Overton Park's advocacy group, have asked to be involved. The proposal would have to be approved by the City Council before it would be implemented.

Councilmembers Jim Strickland and Myron Lowery both attended the meeting.

Before Gaskins and other representatives of the city spoke about the project, Sierra Club representative James Baker said the proposed detention basin in Overton Park did nothing to create or reinvest in the public realm or solve the underlying problem of storm water.

"At best, it's a bandage that covers a festering wound," he said, "not anything that heals it."

UPDATE, of sorts — Two things I forgot yesterday: Gaskins said the city was looking at alternatives on the Overton Park golf course, and I wanted to give a shout out to the lovely folks at CPOP for giving me the heads up on this.

Rails to Trails

A few years ago, the new "beachfront" property in Atlanta was along 22 miles of railway corridors that circled the city.

"Property values increased almost overnight," said Jim Langford, principal creator of Atlanta's Beltline initiative and president of MillionMile Greenway. "As soon as the Trust for Public Land announced where the new park were going to be, developers immediately began scouring locations around those parks.

"A market was created for property that previously had been old warehouses and abandoned lots. A lot of them were eyesores and had been on the market for 15 years," he said.

Langford was the featured speaker at ULI Memphis' Transformative Roles of Greenways event last night at CBU. Other panelists included Shelby Farms Conservancy's Laura Adams, the RDC's Benny Lendermon, and Kathleen Williams with Tennessee Parks and Greenways.

The Beltline project, which took abandoned railway corridors and transformed them into greenways and touches 47 neighborhoods, proves that green space adds economic value to a community. But that's not all.

"No matter what lens you look through," Langford said, "people see this as a success."

People who like green space were fans, people who wanted to use trails for walking and bicycling were fans, as were those interested in economic development and improving the quality of life for those in existing neighborhoods.

Langford hopes for a time when greenways are as ubiquitous as streets and are considered part of infrastructure, just like schools and sewers.

"At some point, you've tipped public expectations and a public ethic about parks and greenspace to the point where people say, this is a city of parks, and they're really happy," Langford said. "Then they very jealously guard the greenway and it's an integral part of what defines the city and the community."

And you never know what might happen if you put a large vision out there. When working on the initial plan for the Beltline project, they looked at the county-owned Bellwood Quarry. It was 400 acres of land, but the company using it had a lease that wasn't up until 2034.

Two weeks after the plan was announced, the company called and said that they actually wanted out of the lease. 18 months laster, the land was transferred to the city of Atlanta, which plans to spend $90 million on it over the next three years.

"That will be Atlanta's next big signature park," Langford said.

At the heart of Langford's message was people both need and expect greenspaces in their cities.

"You have to get control of parks and greenspaces before it's all gone," he says. "It's hard to retrofit those things. You need to find a way to preserve [land] while you're building."

MillonMile Greenway
has four pilot projects underway, including a Coastal Georgia Greenway that links six counties.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


People who know me know I sometimes use the term "super-fun."

Such as, "Hey, guys, thanks for inviting me. This was super-fun."

But here's something that's really super-fun, especially in light of all the talk about superheroes these days.

The Hero Factory
, where you can create your own hero.

Here is (one of) mine.

Please notice my weapon: the economy-lifting bag of consumerism. Or maybe I'm interpreting it wrong — I don't at all understand the title of my comic (it was chosen for me.) And yes, I also made myself a robot. Interpret as you will.

Center City

This won't be surprising to anyone here (tho you should keep reading, just in case).

A new government report finds that a substantial amount of new housing shifted from suburbia back to the center city in the past 15 years.

From USAToday:

"In more than half of the 50 most populous metropolitan areas, communities at the urban core have captured a significantly larger share of their region's new residential building permits since 2002 than in the first half of the 1990s, according to an analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency."

A large amount of residential construction still occurs on former farmland, but there was a consistent increase in new urban housing from 2002 to 2007. Analysts attribute the change to demographics, high gas prices, and congested roads. The change may also reflect the investment cities have made in public transit systems.

Of course, the housing collapse and the overall economy mean that most housing developments are struggling, no matter if they are in the city or the suburbs. But it is an interesting trend, one that gives me hope for less sprawl in the future. But we'll just have to see where people want to live once the economy picks back up.

Van Jones Not Green Jobs Czar ...

But not far off.

Green for All founder Van Jones sent out an email yesterday to dispel some of the rumors and introduce Green for All's new leader, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins.

Jones is headed to Washington as a member of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

"My job will be to help shape the administration's energy and climate policy, so that climate solutions produce jobs and justice for all Americans," he writes. "I am going to be the Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation."

He goes on: "I am not going to be any kind of 'Czar.' If anyone were to be the 'Green Jobs Czar' (a position that does not exist), it would and should be Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. She was an original sponsor of the Green Jobs Act of 2007. Obama appointed her as the first Latina — and first green leader — to head the Department of Labor. Can anyone say 'Green Jobs Czarina'?

Also, rumors that I will be handing out big piles of Recovery Act cash are utterly false. Unfortunately. :)"

But that's okay. Even though Jones will not be handing out the money, he notes that the green aspects of the recovery package will put billions of dollars toward the economy and restoring the environment and that his move to the White House constitutes a "dramatic" leap forward for the green economy.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fare Free

Mass transit ridership was up again last year — the fifth in a row — mostly because of the economy and the price of gasoline.

Ironically, analysts expect that number to fall this year, because of the economy and increasing job losses.

But Planetizen's Dave Olsen asks, if transit agencies spend more money than they make in marketing and increasing ridership, why charge fares at all?

In particular, he looks at a small city in Belgium that converted an existing fare-based system to a fare-free one. The first day without fare boxes, ridership jumped 783 percent. It grew 900 percent that year and four year later was up 1,223 percent.

"Becoming Fare-Free got residents and visitors alike onboard, while the planned increase in capacity kept them coming back," Olsen writes.

He proposes several ways to pay for transit service — you can read his examples here — but none of them include fares.

"Now given that public transit is a public service, it could make sense to maximize the public good that that service brings, which is exactly what Island Transit and other Fare-Free systems have done. However, I'm writing 'could' here because in the mad rush to privatize and maximize profit for anything that moves (including public services) this playing field has been fundamentally altered over the past few decades.

In particular, public transit has suffered from this economic mis-focus, and ironically enough, it has only worsened perennial problems like chronic underfunding and running incomplete systems that can't compete with the private automobile."

Monday, March 9, 2009

Back to Detention

Kayaker Martha Kelly often paddles in the river and the harbor downtown.

"The storm drains downtown empty straight into the harbor," she says. "Trash, oil slicks, and lawn chemicals get picked up and it ends up being a foamy, oily, nasty smelling mess down in the harbor every time there's a hard rain."

So when she considers the possibility of a storm-water detention basin in the middle of Overton Park, she thinks it will be a health hazard for a number of reasons.

"I can only imagine that Midtown storm water will have the same mess," the Park Friends board member says. "It will be a big mud pit with trash and mosquitoes."

The city has a proposal to construct a large retention basin in the greensward area of Overton Park to help relieve flooding in Midtown. Park Friends, an advocacy group for Overton Park, was never consulted on the plan but is fiercely opposed to the idea.

"We think it's terrible," Kelly says. "[The greensward] is already very squishy for several days after a hard rain the elevation it is. If they drop it down the height of a two-story building, what do you think it will do?"

Park Friends is encouraging people to contact the City Council and the administration and tell them there shouldn't be a detention basin in Overton Park.

"Overton Park is Midtown's front yard," Kelly says. "It's next to one of our top tourist attractions. People from out of town will go to the zoo and get their first whiff of Memphis and it won't be pretty."

To read a previous post about the proposed detention basin, click here.

VECA will host a meeting Wednesday night that will address the proposal and flooding in the neighborhood.

Green Go To Guy

Looks like Green for All's Van Jones will be heading to Washington.

Jones has reportedly be tapped as the nation's green jobs czar.

A Mid-South native, Jones is a natural choice. The founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, California, he advocates that green jobs can help solve two of the nation's pressing problems: the energy crisis and the economy.

If you're interested in learning more, his The Green Collar Economy came out last year. He also recently testified during government hearings on the national stimulus package.

And he was in Memphis for a conference last April.

The Power of Greenways

Here's an upcoming event that might interest some of you.

ULI Memphis will host "Exploring the Transformative Roles of Greenways," with Jim Langford, president of the Atlanta-based MillionMile Greenway.

The event is this Wednesday at Christian Brothers University. Registration is free and open to the public; you can either register online at or by calling 1-800-321-5011.

Panelists for the event include Laura Adams from the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, Benny Lendermon, president of the RDC, which operates Mud Island, and Cindy Buchanan, director of the Memphis city parks division.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Overton Park Pond?

Longtime activist and Vollintine-Evergreen resident Mary Wilder calls her neighborhood "the kink in the hose."

"We get a lot of flooding. [Lick Creek] makes a 90 degree angle at Auburndale and the water comes flying through there," she says. "Back in August, we had trucks and cars on the street and the water was up to their steering wheels."

"It was a phenomenal amount of rain, I'll give you that, but you're supposed to plan for that."

To mitigate Midtown's storm water problem, the city of Memphis is considering installing a detention basin ... in the middle of Overton Park's greensward.

And that has eyebrows raised with community groups and involved parties.

Lissa Thompson, principal at Ritchie Smith Associates, worked on the Overton Park master plan in the '80s. About a year ago, they were asked for their general reaction to a detention pond in the park.

"We'd like to believe there are alternatives ... because that part of the park is the only free open space for people to play Frisbee or soccer or run around with their dogs," she says. "It's a big park, but most of it is occupied by the forest, the golf course, art institutions, or the zoo."

For instance, the Lick Creek channel in Overton Park was concreted over in recent years, meaning storm water rushed downstream at a higher velocity.

"It could be returned to a more natural channel. That would have enough friction to slow the water down," Thompson says. "We're looking at an irreplaceable amenity. This might be a case where a higher investment is warranted."

Wilder agrees that the city should look to alternatives. Other ideas include a water hazard on the golf course or a number of smaller basins. Wilder is not sure that a large detention basin will even solve her neighborhood's flooding issues.

"We're north of it," she says. "It may not divert it to where it helps us."

VECA is hosting a meeting Wednesday, March 11th, at 6:30 p.m. to discuss possible solutions to flooding, as well as the city's water quality, in general.

Memphis is not alone in facing storm water issues. Some cities have started offering incentives for replacing impermeable surfaces with permeable ones.

"A lot of cities are implementing low-impact measures," Thompson says. "I'd like to think this is a case where Memphis could do something a little more progressive."

Calls to the city have not yet been returned.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Wal-mart's Smiling Face

Walmart, beloved by Midwesterners and people who live for blue smocks and value (and, really, in this economy, who doesn't?), is a bright spot in the retail sector.

Retail sales were up 0.7 percent in February compared with sales from that period last year, but it was due to Walmart, the nation's largest (and some would say, most powerful) retailer:

"Without Wal-Mart, overall retail sales would have fallen 4.1 percent. As Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, noted in a report Thursday morning, 'it’s still ugly,' but Wal-Mart 'dressed up' the month nicely."

According to the NYT, the numbers underscore the fact that consumers are still only buying the essentials.

For Wal-mart (and its investors), the numbers translate into a 15 percent increase in the company's dividend, to $1.09 per share.

The economy is continuing to hurt clothing stores, and not just at the high-end. At Neiman Marcus, same-store sales are down, but it's the same story at Dillard's, the Gap, J.C. Penney, Macy's, and Stein Mart.

On a somewhat related note, if you haven't seen it, you have to check out Jon Stewart's rant about Rick Santelli and CNBC re: the economy. He mentions in particular their interview (around minute seven) with Sir Allen Stanford of Stanford Financial.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Foreclosures or Bust

Last weekend, instead of lounging around in my pajamas and watching cartoons, I took up realtor Jason Gaia on his invitation to attend a bus tour of foreclosed homes now on the market.

It was super-interesting; we saw a really wide range of homes, from those that had us saying, "It smells in here," to those that I couldn't afford even at the foreclosure price. (The thing they all seemed to have in common was a smoke detector with low batteries — I haven't heard that much beeping since the last time I was on Union Avenue!)

See for yourself:

(A note, two things have changed since last week: it's not as long, and it's not as shaky. I still sound like I've swallowed a bottle of Xanax, though.)

Pay to Park

Memphis drivers may be getting the boot.

City Court Clerk Thomas Long brought the City Council's economic development committee several recommendations this morning, among them electronic pay stations, doubled fines, and the dreaded "boot," which renders a car immobile.

Long told the council the city loses $1.5 to $2 million annually in unpaid parking tickets. Under state law, the statute of limitations for parking tickets is only one year. Because many residents know that fact, they choose not to pay city parking tickets.

"If I park my car downtown and get a ticket, then after that I'll take my car and hide it or do whatever I need to do," Long said. "After one year, why pay?"

Long asked the council to add changing the statute of limitations to its legislative agenda bound for Nashville.

"We need more than one year to collect non-moving violations. The city of New Orleans has 10 years," Long said.

Long was initially not supportive of booting cars but, after research on what other cities do, said he thinks automobiles ought to be subject to booting after 60 days of non-payment.

"Parking tickets are $20. If you don't pay within 30 days, I think it ought to go to $40. If you don't pay within 60 days, I think it should be $80," Long said.

After that time, the vehicle would get the boot for three days. If the owner didn't pay the fee in three days, the car would be taken to a downtown impound lot.

The only exception would be for vehicles that have more than $500 in fines attached to them. Those would get taken straight to impound.

"The 20, 40, 80 seems a little extreme to me," said councilmember Shea Flinn. "If it's too little, people are going to ignore it. If it's too much, people are going to ignore it. We've got to hit the sweet spot."

Long said he wasn't tied to the fee structure, but that he thinks it should be more than $20.

With budget season approaching, the committee asked Long to bring back his top three recommendations.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

White Sunday

I'm sure everyone will post tons of similar snow pics — how often do we get a nice accumulation like this – but what the heck?

The bandwagon isn't always bad. Especially if it will all melt by Tuesday and we won't be stuck with it for weeks. Sorry, Ohio flashback.

A tree

In my neighborhood

At Overton Park

Ditto (with people)

Golf house

Lick Creek, I think?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Even With the Pyramid ... Nothing

James Blakeway has spent the last 20 years photographing skylines.

So when he picks his favorite cityscapes, people tend to listen.

Blakeway, the author of Skylines of the World, recently listed his top 10 favorite viewing spots for USAToday. They include the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, the Montparnasse Tower in Paris, and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

And the Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh:

"One of the city's more interesting architectural elements is the plethora of bridges, which span the city's three rivers: the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers, which meet to form the Ohio River. 'They're not your usual flat-deck bridges, but these beautiful older bridges that have been rebuilt,' Blakeway says. 'There's a lot of ironwork to them.' Take the Duquesne Incline up Mount Washington for a sweeping view of the city, rivers and bridges, he says."

Ramses, we've been robbed.

Then, again, not many people have been up to the observation deck, arguably the best view of the city from three out of four directions.


I have one of the company video cameras in my possession. Be afraid, be v. afraid.

Broadway Bound

Here's some interesting news for fans of keeping the Main Street Mall vehicle-free:

"Broadway, the world-famous boulevard that meanders the length of Manhattan, will become a pedestrian mall around Times Square."

The plan, which will close Broadway to cars and trucks from 47th to 42nd, may be implemented as soon as May. In the place of automobiles, chairs, benches, and cafe tables with umbrellas will be placed on the avenue.

Broadway will also be closed to traffic around Herald Square. Both moves are meant to alleviate traffic congestion.

I sort of wonder where the congestion will shift. By closing streets, you don't eliminate traffic, you just disperse it. Hopefully.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

World Overcomers Share Mall Plan

Last February, Scott Kim had to shutter his women's clothing store after the Hickory Ridge Mall was damaged in a tornado.

Today, he was back at the mall — in his store's old space — to hear what the mall's new owners, the World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church, are planning.

"People keep saying to us, you're a church, what are you going to do with a mall?" says Al Cousins of the World Overcomers. "We want to talk to those retailers who are returning, those who are on the fence, and those who weren't here in the first place and tell them, here's our plan."

In addition to 40 retail and food court stores, the mall will include social services, church ventures — such as a day care and a book store — and family entertainment. Part of Macy's is slated to become a banquet and conference center. There are also plans for a youth recreational center and a movie theater.

"We don't believe the community has been abandoned by the residents. We believe the community has been abandoned by the national retailers," Cousins says. "Are we going to have a Macy's and Dillard's? We don't need them for a community mall."

The church hopes that by creating a mix of retail, social services, and educational facilities it can revitalize both the mall and the surrounding community. It has been in negotiations with entities as disparate as Incredible Pizza and Southwest Tennessee Community College to lease space in the mall.

"A mall with 100 retail spaces won't survive. It doesn't work like that anymore because of the economy," Cousins says.

Vickie Reyes is the director of Southwest's Educational Opportunity Center, which tries to get more adults a post-secondary education. Since January 2003, the center has been at the corner of Mendenhall and Winchester, but its lease is about to expire.

Reyes came to the meeting to see what other services the church was planning to include in the mall.

"We've always said, wouldn't it be great to have a one-stop shop? We'll be able to touch more people here," she says.

The church is currently generating letters of intent from interested retailers and will begin writing leases in 45 days. Store owners will have 60 days to get their spaces ready before the mall's grand re-opening in the summer.

"It's a unique concept that I think is right for Hickory Hill," says mall manager Pat Jacobs. "People ask me who's going to be here. I don't know, but I can almost guarantee you Circuit City won't be."

The grand opening is slated for the end of June.

Kim, who owns six other 4 Ever Young stores in the area, plans to return once the mall opens.

"I still have my store here," he says, pointing to the fixtures. "I have a lot of stuff still here."

As for Cousins, he says the church will make money on the venture, but that's not its primary goal: "We're coming back to make the mall work for you."

Bonus: For those of you who had heard the rumor the church was going to build an old folks home in one of the anchor spaces, I did ask about it, and Cousins just said they were talking about having a day care for Alzheimer's patients.

But he also said he couldn't tell me what the church had planned for the Dillard's space.

Power Plant Protest

Monday, global warming activists will be protesting in front of coal-fired power plant in the nation's capital.

It might seem like the environmental movement doesn't need acts of civil disobedience right now. After all, the president is sensitive to environmental concerns. But Bill McKibben argues this is the perfect time to up the ante.

He says we need a powerful and active movement to give the administration and the Democrats in Congress political space to do what they need to do. Besides, he asks, do you think Dick Cheney would care?

"Consider what has to happen if we're going to deal with global warming in a real way. NASA climate scientist James Hansen -- who has announced he plans to join us and get arrested for trespassing in the action we're planning for March 2 -- has demonstrated two things in recent papers. One, that any concentration of carbon dioxide greater than 350 parts per million in the atmosphere is not compatible with the "planet on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted." And two, that the world as a whole must stop burning coal by 2030 -- and the developed world well before that -- if we are to have any hope of ever getting the planet back down below that 350 number."

That won't be difficult at all.

McKibben plans to get arrested Monday at the Congressional owned power plant (who knew?) and says you should to (but also cautions that sit-ins aren't the most important tool in the activists' tool box).

I can't get arrested Monday — way too much to do; in fact, I'm getting hives just thinking about it — but I won't stop anyone else from doing so.

Seriously, if anyone goes to this, let me know.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In the event you need to flee the country ...

We have a pretty good package on the local impact of the Standford Financial investigation this week in the Flyer.

But if you're interested in what you should ever do if you find yourself in a similar situation (and let's be honest, who isn't considering a life of crime these days?), Slate has the answer: head for one of the 90 countries that doesn't have an extradition treaty with the United States. Such as Russia, Libya, or Iran.

Hmm, I know.

Apparently there are some loopholes — if the criminal would be punished for political reasons, some countries don't extradite in death penalty cases, Cuba.

"Most extradition treaties have a so-called "dual criminality" rule, which mandates that the crime must be illegal in both states, not just one. That's why financier Marc Rich fled to Switzerland. The crimes for which he was charged — tax evasion, primarily — are not illegal there, so Switzerland wouldn't extradite him."

TERRA House Tour

So, I'd just like to mention that I'm a print journalist, first and foremost. And frankly, I've always considered myself better with the writing end of things than the reporting end of things.

That being said, the world is multi-media and we're trying to do our part over here at 460 Tennessee St.

Below you'll find a link to a virtual video tour of the University of Memphis' TERRA House project. DPC's Eric Criswell was nice enough to take me on a tour of the house last week to show me all its environmentally friendly features. And there are a ton so, especially if you can't get to one of the tours in March, you should check it out.

But before you watch it, I think I have to also say, in my defense, that:

1. I am something of a spaz.

2. I have not used any movie editing software before.

3. Next time I will try not to say as much, seeing as how my mouth was right next to the video camera (since I was holding it and all). And I might try to get a professional voice-over person/coach.

4. I was filming at — essentially — a construction site. Not only was there a lot of background noise, sometimes workpeople had to move past me to get where they were going. And it is hard to move your feet without moving your arm.

But as they say, it's a poor carpenter who blames his tools (or, alternately, my dad's favorite, "Excuses, excuses").

So, roll 'em. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Money Talk

So everyone is waiting to hear what the president will say about the economy tonight. Many hope that he'll say something uplifting, because if he says something too depressing, even if it's the truth, it could make the recession worse.

Economics is not an exact science. It has as much to do with psychology as anything else. We're not on a gold-standard anymore: once people think the economy is in trouble, they start acting like it's in trouble, and those actions stem the flow of money, thus ensuring the economy is in trouble.

I'm not saying it's not bad. It's bad. But, as one economist recently said, a crisis of consumer confidence could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Flyer editor Bruce Van Wyngarden wrote an editor's letter to this effect a few months ago and, truth be told, I vacillate between wanting to spend for the common good (or shoes, ahem) and wanting to bury all my money in a pot in my backyard where I know it's safe (which, btw, I have not done, so don't come sniffing around. You'll only dig up the creeping Jennies, and I would hate that.)

The NYT has an "object lesson" about Japan and how its spend-thrift ways have kept it firmly in a recession, one in which it is so dependent on exports that when the world economy falters, it almost collapses:

"The economic malaise that plagued Japan from the 1990s until the early 2000s brought stunted wages and depressed stock prices, turning free-spending consumers into misers and making them dead weight on Japan’s economy.

Today, years after the recovery, even well-off Japanese households use old bath water to do laundry, a popular way to save on utility bills. Sales of whiskey, the favorite drink among moneyed Tokyoites in the booming ’80s, have fallen to a fifth of their peak. And the nation is losing interest in cars; sales have fallen by half since 1990."

I'm not saying everyone should go out and spend carelessly. Not by any means. That's what got us into this mess. But as some point, if we continue on this pessimistic path, the potential end result is a out-of-control race to the bottom. Only there isn't one. (And that doesn't sound scary or pessimistic at all, does it?)

On a related note, a 93-year-old Grandma named Clara has been vlogging Depression-era recipes on YouTube for two years. You can learn how to cook pasta with peas, egg drop soup, and what's called the "poorman's meal."

Monday, February 23, 2009

It's a Miracle?

It's the type of claim you might see on a late-night infomercial or on the HSN.

A miracle cleaner that is powerful enough to kill anthrax spores, but doesn't harm people or the environment. And it's made from tap water and table salt.

I mean, who would believe that? But, apparently, it works.

From the LAT:

"Researchers have dubbed it electrolyzed water -- hardly as catchy as Mr. Clean. But at the Sheraton Delfina in Santa Monica, some hotel workers are calling it el liquido milagroso -- the miracle liquid. ...

Used as a sanitizer for decades in Russia and Japan, it's slowly winning acceptance in the United States. A New York poultry processor uses it to kill salmonella on chicken carcasses. Minnesota grocery clerks spray sticky conveyors in the checkout lanes. Michigan jailers mop with electrolyzed water to keep potentially lethal cleaners out of the hands of inmates."

When the liquid is zapped with low-voltage electricity, sodium ions are converted to sodium hydroxide, an alkaline liquid that cleans and degreases with the best of them. And it's inexpensive.

"It's big in Japan. People there spray it on sushi to kill bacteria and fill their swimming pools with it, eliminating the need for harsh chlorine. Doctors use it to sterilize equipment and treat foot fungus and bedsores. It's the secret weapon in Sanyo Electric Corp.'s "soap-less" washing machine."

Unfortunately, the liquid loses its potency fairly quickly. The machines can be pricey. Not all the claims made by some sellers of home ionizers are true, and there's a mentality in this country that if a cleaner doesn't smell, burn, or bubble, it's not doing its job.

But, no, I don't know where you can get some.

NASA's Next Laboratory

NASA has a unique proposition for astronomy enthusiasts. And everyone else, too.

According to USAToday, under its "Hubble's Next Discovery — You Decide" campaign, NASA is letting people vote for one of six areas of spaces that the Hubble should focus on next. Online voting will continue until March 1st.

Depending on the vote tally, the Hubble will study a star-forming region, a spiral galaxy, a spiral galaxy on edge, or a pair of galaxies merging together. (This, unsurprisingly, is apparently the current top vote getter.)

One of the six choices

Apparently, 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. (Who knew?) It has been four centuries since Galileo ('s head was on a block ...) first demonstrated his telescope.

And April 5th - 7th is the International Year of Astronomy's 100 Hours of Astronomy. During that time, the winning image will be released (by voting you also enter to win one of 100 copies of this image).

In May, the Hubble is due for long-delayed repairs that should make it more powerful.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Morning Filing

File under "horrifying": The Palm Beach County Courthouse in West Palm Beach, Florida, has such a bad mice problem that they've been seen falling from ceiling tiles and staffers have to check their handbags for "stowaways" before leaving for the day.

Under "invasive": Passengers at Tulsa International Airport are among the first in the country to go through full-body scanners instead of metal detectors.

From USAToday: "The machines use electromagnetic waves to create pictures of energy reflected off people. The metallic-looking images show outlines of private body parts and blur passengers' faces. Two Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners in a closed room near the checkpoint view the images on computer monitors and relay information on radio headsets to checkpoint screeners."

Under "off-beat" or "ouch": A dispatch from the international yoga championship — who knew there was such a thing? — where yogis trash-talk, young girls arch back and put their toes in the mouth, and the goal is enlightened bliss.

Under "red wrigglers": About composting in New York, or any place, really, where you compost inside.

Under "stimulus package": States will be responsible for doling out federal stimulus funds and that could slow down the process (especially if local elected officials call for rejecting said funds). Highway building funds must be deployed within 120 days or they are sent back to the federal government. But other funds just need to be spent by 2010.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pizza and Planners: What Could Be Better?

The Coalition for Livable Communities is hosting the second in its Pizza with Planners series tonight, this time with a focus on area transportation planning.

"In this session, Kimley-Horn transportation consultants will explain Memphis’ Long Range Transportation Plan and review current transportation options/opportunities. Learn how you can give feedback to the different kinds of plans throughout the process. Learn how implementation decisions are made. Hear from the citizen activists on Bicycle and Pedestrian Action Committee (BPAC) of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Find out who makes the decisions about what gets implemented.

— Explore the concept of “complete streets” including public transit, bike lanes, pedestrian friendly crossing & sidewalks.

— What does a sustainable road system look like and how does that compare to what we have now?

— How does vehicle speed, road width, and road type effect a neighborhood.

— Explain basic concept of “connectivity” and the relationship between roads and development trends.

— Glossary of transportation terms: TIP, connector, arterial, collector, etc.

— Who designs the roads? How do plans response to and influence the needs of the city? [ed: and how many of us haven't been stuck on the road somewhere — cough, Union Ave., cough, cough — and thought, who the heck designed this? ]

—When/what is the most effective way to influence the process to ensure neighborhood friendly streets?

— How can citizens accomplish a specific goal? Who to call to fix a sign, add a median or cross walk."

All important information, I'd say.

In the first session of pizza with planners, residents learned about neighborhood planning and zoning.

At the time, CLC program director Sarah Newstok had this to say about the series:

""It's both a means to allow [DPD] to have access to the neighborhood and to give citizens the tools to make their neighborhoods better places," Newstok said. "[We want] to give people the skills to be active participants in the planning process — when to go to a meeting, what meetings they should be looking for."

The event starts at 5:30 p.m. tonight. It's free, but a reservation is required. I don't know if it's too late to RSVP, but the number is 725-8370 if you wish to do so.

Future topics include planning boards and commissions, public transit, the Sustainable Shelby vision, and economic development.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I would be remiss if I didn't note that the fun and friendly treehuggers over at CPOP are having a fundraiser tonight at the Hi-Tone.

The Old Forest Jamboree starts tonight at 7 p.m. Admission is a $10 donation to CPOP. (Kids 12 and under get in free.)

Hoots & Hellmouth, Jimmy Davis, Bluff City Backsliders, and Giant Beer will be performing.

I also hear that adults 21 and over will each get a complimentary draft beer from Ghost River Brewing. Should be a fun time!

Magnetic Me?

There's a question we ask all the hotties each year -- my favorite question, in fact: If you were arrested tomorrow, what do you think you'd be arrested for?

I've heard some great answers: mistaken identity, trespassing, indecent exposure, you name it.

Until recently, I did not have an answer to this question. But now I do: It would probably be shoplifting.

Not because I'm a shoplifter; to the contrary, I'm not. But a very strange thing has started to happen.

Whenever I walk INTO Walgreens, Target, or Celery Re-Sale on Brookhaven Circle, I set off the door sensors.

And when I walk out of Walgreens, Target, and Celery, the same thing happens.

Luckily, so far, no one has really cared. At Celery, I reminded them it went off when I walked in. At Target, I walked in and out with a bunch of people. At Walgreens, where it's happened several times, I just look around, like, "Who, me?" and then carry on.

But I'm not going to lie; it has started getting a little uncomfortable.

It's been at least a month and I've worn different shoes, different outfits, I've left my purse in the car, it still goes off.

So, internet, any ideas? (Other than using Walgreens drive-thru pharmacy option?)

Fairgrounds Update UPDATE

Yesterday, I wrote that council members Barbara Swearengen Ware and Kemp Conrad had called the funding plan for the fairgrounds redevelopment project "pie in the sky" and "half-baked," respectively.

Conrad asked me to clarify his position on the fairgrounds proposal, saying he thought the plan half-baked because the process isn't working:

"I like the idea of private development paying for public improvements. I like the development team and their vision for the project, their track record and their diversity.

What is 'half baked' is a project totally predicated on $100 million in retail sales – yet we have just now receiving the retail study (which I recommended months ago) that

A) will confirm or not if this level of retail sales is even feasible – especially in this economy, and

B) where will these sales come from? I.e. Are we cannibalizing existing retail dollars that are being spent in Memphis? Or are they net new dollars that are currently being spent in Mississippi or Arkansas?

One has to look no further than the Winchester corridor – a carcass of once vibrant retail – now dead due in large part to retail spending migration to Wolfchase once it was built.

Also, if the majority of the $100 million are Memphis sales tax dollars now – the sales tax dollars these sales generate will then be diverted from the general fund (and we have a deficit as I’m sure you know) to be plowed into the public improvements."

The council is expected to hold a three-hour evening meeting in the near future to discuss the project.

Mitigating the Mortgage Crisis

The city is still pursing a lawsuit against national mortgage lenders as part of its response to area foreclosures, says city CFO Robert Lipscomb.

Lipscomb and a team of public/private partners went before the City Council yesterday to update them on local plans to mitigate the mortgage crisis.

Co-chairs of four committees presented several strategies to the council, including job fairs, a sort of for Memphis residents, and asking the Postal Service and MLGW for information on vacant homes.

(Inside baseball alert: My colleague John Branston and I talk a lot about how many foreclosures and vacant homes there are, exactly. County assessor Cheyenne Johnson, who is co-chair of the committee looking to MLGW, has one number. RealtyTrac and other data services have others, and it's very confusing, b/c it just doesn't seem like anyone really knows.

Johnson's committee, the IT and fiscal planning committee, says that the postal service knows when a house is vacant and MLGW knows when they get a cut-off notice and they're trying to collect as much data as they can.)

The city and county also are expected to receive a combined $14 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Funds from the federal government.

Housing and Community Development deputy director Beverly Goines said the city expects the neighborhood stabilization contract to come from HUD within the next 30 to 60 days. Within 30 days of getting the contract, the city will execute its program.

I think we might have talked about this program before. More than once.

Council member Barbara Swearengen Ware asked Goines if the program is going to help homeowners whose houses have been foreclosed on: "[If] they desire to be back in their homes, is that money available to them?"

"They would have to be able to qualify for a 30-year fixed-term loan and it would probably be difficult to do if you already had a foreclosure," Goines replied.

"So this program will not help a person who has lost their home?" Ware persisted.

"It might help them in terms of a rental property, but not home ownership," said Goines.

The money is really intended to shore up neighborhoods (thus the name). It's not going to help Joe Schmoe who just got kicked out of his house.

I'm not sure this was the way to go. It seems it might be a good idea to try to keep people in their own houses instead of letting them get kicked out under a foreclosure procedure, buying the house, renovating it, and reselling it. I mean, first question: Reselling it to who?

But under the federal guidelines, the city and county are only allowed to use the money in very specific ways. They're allowed to use the funding to acquire land for a land bank, for instance, but they're not allowed to use it to maintain the land in the land bank.

The city plans to acquire and rehab about 145 vacant homes with help from local community development corporations.