Friday, January 30, 2009

Cool Stuff, Really Great Cause

Ever wanted a big metal rooster sculpture made from barrel pieces? Now is your chance!

The Anna Ives online auction is happening now through February 2nd. A benefit for four-year-old Anna Ives, the auction includes art, music, clothes, and collectibles, among other things.

Anna was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor in 2007, and has since had two successful brain surgeries. She is currently undergoing special preventative treatment in Boston. Here is a story that Flyer music editor Chris Herrington wrote for this week.

"A lot of people don't have money, but they do have things, so this is a way they can contribute if they want to," said Eric Friedl, Zac Ives' partner in Goner Records.

Though he had raised money online for friends during Katrina, Friedl said in an interview last week that an online auction was the "next step in complication."

"I'm waking up in the middle of the night thinking about the things that are going to go wrong and how we can head them off at this point," he said.

In case you don't have time to scour the site, I thought I'd highlight a few selections. After all, I do get paid to be on the internet all day (or something like that):

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Super Bowl

I don't love the Superbowl. Don't get me wrong; I don't hate it. I just don't care. I think I was one of 100 people in America — 75 of them Amish — who missed Janet Jackson's famous nip slip.

I kind of like the ads, but I figure I'll either see them on the internet or on television afterwards without all that football thrown in.

But one ad has already caught my attention.

USAToday is reporting that Cash4Gold — you've seen the ads, I'm sure: late nights, old ladies, gold jewelry — bought a Super Bowl timeslot.

From the story:

"The sour economy has been sweet for the Florida gold-melting service, billed as an alternative to a pawn shop. Cash4Gold transactions more than doubled to about 500,000 in 2008 vs. 2007. How it works: Consumers send in gold items and get paid based on weight and quality within two weeks."

The story said the ad will feature Ed McMahon and MC Hammer, "two celebrities who've had very public real-life financial reversals." It should be interesting.

Maybe Hammer will send this necklace to Cash4Gold.

In a side note, the Consumerist has posted in the past about how you can avoid being ripped off by Cash4Gold.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow Day

Internets, I've totally abandoned you today, and I'm so sorry!

Everyone's all snowed in and I'm snowed under with work, work, work. (Not that I'm complaining, internets!)

But. Here's a little story I did this week about Memphis Area Legal Services' fair housing testers. I think the whole program is really fascinating.

This didn't get in the final story, but I asked Advocacy Director Webb Brewer if the testers were ever affected by the job. Like if a certain tester was a woman, for instance, and after she did a test on an apartment complex with men and other women, she realized that yes, she were being discriminated against. I think that would affect me personally.

Brewer said that there was case that gave testers standing to bring a lawsuit themselves if they thought they were being discriminated against.

"Even if they weren't interested in renting, it could still be hurtful to them," he said.

Full story below:

Take-Home Test
Memphis Area Legal Services trains volunteers to look for housing discrimination.

Students aren't the only ones who have to worry about pop quizzes. Property managers need to worry, as well.

Memphis Area Legal Services recently held a training session for "fair housing testers" — people who pose as potential renters.

Memphis Area Legal Services investigates complaints of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. Using a federal Housing and Urban Development grant, the group also tests rental practices at multi-family apartment complexes.

"The number of testers we had before was causing the project to go slowly, so we wanted to get more people involved," says Webb Brewer, director of advocacy at Memphis Area Legal Services. "We need a pool that's diverse, because in testing you try to replicate suspected instances of discrimination and that can take all kinds of shapes."

For example, the organization might send in a pair of testers to an apartment building suspected of racial discrimination. After applying for an apartment, the testers record their experiences.

During training, testers are taught about the federal Fair Housing Act and what their roles are. When they are sent to an apartment building, however, they are not told what the specific complaint is.

"They know very little about what is being investigated, because we don't want them to do anything to impact the outcome," Brewer says. "We give them a very specific script: Your name is such-and-such, and you do this."

The testers eventually will be debriefed but not until the case is resolved. And that could take awhile.

"Ultimately," Brewer says, "they might be a witness in a trial."

Several years ago, Memphis Area Legal Services did similar testing that resulted in two separate settlements in 2007.

During the most recent training, about 50 people participated. Testers earn $50 per test.

"I think the economic situation is such that there might be more interest [than in the past]. We compensate people for their trouble, but we don't want someone making a second job out of it. We would rather have people do it because they're civically minded," Brewer says.

As for property managers, Brewer doesn't mind them knowing that testers are out there.

"It might give them the incentive to do what's right," he says.

Not into Match?

Rachel Hurley is hosting a speed-dating event tonight at TJ Mulligan's.

$14. Ten to 12 five-minute dates. What could be better than that?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Back to Police

The City Council's executive committee heard recommendations from the police recruitment ad hoc committee today, including a resolution to allow officers to live 20 miles outside of Shelby County, as long as they pay a $1,400 fee and apply before December 31, 2009.

Police director Larry Godwin told council members the department currently has about 2,100 applicants, due in part to a large marketing campaign, but the department also loses about 100 officers each year to attrition.

"After the marketing campaign is over, the applicants will diminish," said councilman Harold Collins. "We're trying to provide enough applicants going forward over the next three years."

Some council members objected to the resolution because a similar provision went before the full council two months ago.

"To bring it back before us, simply because an ad hoc committee decided to, is very disappointing," said councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware. "In our rules of procedure, once a matter has been approved or rejected at one meeting, any such item may not be placed on the agenda ... for consideration before six months after the original consideration of the matter."

There was also a tense moment when Ware asked about the effect of the resolution on neighboring communities.

Godwin said, "I will not allow us to go to a department and recruit another chief's men and women. We would probably be offering things they don't have, salary, benefits."

After Ware said "we will rape those town of their police officers," Chairman Myron Lowery protested her use of that term, but she re-asserted her meaning.

"I meant rape," she said emphatically. "We wll take those officers that are protecting those citizens and bring them to Memphis and put them on our police force. It's wrong."

The resolution was added onto the full council's agenda for this evening.

Other recommendations from the committee included opening the city's down-payment home assistance program to police officers, paying college loans and relocation fees for officers, and processing police applications in a more timely manner. The other recommendations will come before the City Council's personnel committee.

Parking Review

Looks like the city of Memphis is looking closely at its parkland.

The City Council heard from Parks Services Director Cindy Buchanan today about an upcoming city parks master plan.

"The purpose for this project is to provide recreational activities in the best fiscal manner," she said. "We will not bring any major construction projects to the council for various facilities until the master plan is complete."

Buchanan said they would be looking at all facets of the city's parks, including whether there was property the city could "divest ourselves of."

A group of citizens will be helping the city with the master plan.

"They are members of the public, and we expect them to bring with them their desires, passions, and concerns," Buchanan said. "They will discuss things and hopefully come to a consensus for park services. Once that happens, we'll create a document and bring it to the City Council."

The master plan is expected to be complete within 6 months.

The City Council's parks and environment committee also discussed ADA upgrades for the Liberty Bowl stadium.

Monday, January 26, 2009

On Beales Street

Thank god The O.C. went off the air in 2007 — there's no way the writers could have written about 2008.

For its January issue, GQ recently sent reporter Charles Bowden to Southern California's Foreclosure Alley, "ground zero of the collapse of the late, great American dream," where home values are worth 39 percent less than they were a year ago:

"Across Southern California, nearly 500 families lose their homes to foreclosure each day; Foreclosure Alley has the highest concentration of such homes because the construction is newer and the financing looser. It is a kind of malignant tumor of the real estate bubble, a region where not much was going on until about ten years ago, when a boom occurred in a new product: bedrooms. Southern California — like Florida, Arizona, and Nevada — became a perpetual-motion machine of real estate profit, a place where everyone assumed they would have perfect teeth, large engines in their cars, and endless home equity."

For the story, Bowden rents a five-bedroom mini-mansion on Beales Street in Lake Elsinore, California. The home was bought before the crash as a flip, and the flipper, a man name Brian Groen, is happy to rent it. But he also roams around the neighborhood, looking at brown lawns, empty pools, and vacant houses.

At one foreclosure, he goes into the house:

"The recently departed was a lawyer; his garage is stuffed with nice executive desks from wherever the law office once thrived, and the nicely framed law certificates have been left behind. In the family room o the kitchen, several Jeppesen ring-bound air manuals are piled up: The attorney was also a pilot. Books are stacked on the floor — a biography of Bill Clinton, Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, a six-box video set of the Jenny Craig library for getting lean and mean. On the kitchen counter is a bottle of Jose Cuervo Especial. Empty.

... There is something maybe a little sad about all of these possessions, bought and so easily discarded in a moment’s desperation. And something scary, too. The people who owned these things are the foundation of our consumer society. They mow their lawns, collect their DVDs, and buy cars they slave to pay for. It is not a question of whether they deserve a seat in the lifeboat. They are the goddamn lifeboat: the family-raising, credit-card-spending American Buying Machines."

It's quite a picture. He also interviews a Ukranian immigrant family who have come to this country to live the American dream, and they, too, are struggling to meet their house payments. Worth a read if you have the time.

Home Grown

I recently got an email about a new backyard market that sounds really cool.

Memphis Locally Grown is a member-based cooperative for locally grown or created products, including produce, bread, soap, whatever.

From the group's website:

"One of our main goals is to provide a no barrier entry point for new urban growers and local entrepreneur types. We want to provide small backyard or community garden growers, nonprofits that promote urban gardening such as GrowMemphis and BridesUSA, an opportunity to sell some of their efforts and ultimately build a stronger community around local products."

But it's not just a backyard initiative — it's based on the internet, too. Apparently, you sign up — for free — and become a member, which allows you to buy or sell things on the organization's website. The market gets 10 percent of the sales, which pays for site hosting and running the physical market.

After products are pre-ordered online, the market will meet weekly at a host location. Payment for the products will be collected then. And it means sellers know exactly what they need to bring to the market, or if they need to be there at all.

When they get enough members signed up, Memphis Locally Grown will let people start buying things online.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Shovel Ready?

When Congress and President Obama began planning for the largest infrastructure improvement initiative since the Depression, they wanted "shovel ready" projects that would be ready to go within 60 to 90 days of funding.

That only makes sense, seeing as the reason behind the initiative was to stimulate the economy. They don't want project that aren't going to even strat until 12 to 18 months from now.

But at least one commentator is urging caution:

"I fear that 'shovel ready' means boondoggles like the E- 470 beltway, a six-lane, 46-mile arc through empty high-desert grasslands dotted with new subdivisions east of Denver. Cars cruise the wide-open toll road at 80 miles per hour.

Touted as essential to the metro area’s growth, this land developers’ delight hasn’t lightened loads on more centrally located highways. It’s just rearranged growth patterns, scattering splotches of development over an unimaginably large landscape. New residents depend on long beltway commutes by car," writes Bloomberg architecture critic James Russell for

"We can’t do better now, the lobbying legions say, we need to start the bulldozers fast. Translation: No bridge to nowhere will be left behind."

So what projects should be funded? Russell talks about aligning roads and rails and adding express bus lanes and bikeways to reduce car dependency. He talks about adding planted buffers in streets to make pedestrian crossings safer and soak up storm water.

"Dollars spent that get Americans out of cars will ease traffic, save money, reduce pollution, slow global warming and make us less vulnerable to volatile oil oligarchs.

Road projects do little more than rearrange the traffic jams. Look for freeway spectaculars among the proposals, like the 23-lane extravaganza touted for Atlanta’s suburbs. Mark them “D” -- for delusional."

Here in Memphis, not all the possible projects have been publicized so there may be some road projects in there. However, some of the plans submitted to the city for the funds — they still would have to be submitted to the federal government — include a Wolf River Greenway near the Pyramid, the Bioworks Foundation's research park, and streetscape improvements in Midtown.

When the Suburbs Look Like Cities

This week, Newsweek asks about "The Suburban Challenge."

And, no, they're not talking about SUVs.

The majority of jobs are now located in the suburbs, as are the majority of foreign-born residents. More people living below the poverty line live in the suburbs than in the nation's cities. Add to that the mortgage crisis, urban-centered public services, and what President Barack Obama called an "outdated 'urban' agenda that focuses extensively on the problems in our cities."

From the article by Brookings Institution vice president Bruce Katz and Metropolitan Policy Program research associate Jennifer Bradley:

"Suburbs are middle-class family values expressed in stucco, brick and carpet grass. They're all the things that America's noisy, diverse, striving, poor cities are not.

But the suburbs as we think of them are vanishing.

They no longer represent a retreat from the tumult of American life, but the locus of it. What do we do now that they resemble our cities, in good ways and bad?"

Katz and Bradley say that all levels of government need to reinvent the physical landscape, creating more public transit and walkable communities, and treat metropolitan areas as a whole:

"America can't ensure its leading place in the global economy unless we grapple with the problems and opportunities of our suburbs. Nonprofits, long focused on inner cities, need to reach out to poor families and immigrants in the suburbs. The federal government should support the production and preservation of affordable housing there. Even more important, Washington needs to recognize that suburban governments are being flattened by the housing crisis — they don't have the experience or the capacity to slow the tide of foreclosures or deal with neighborhoods strafed by vacancies. The Feds need to use some of the billions in recovery funding to help local governments buy up foreclosed properties and put that land to productive use."

I don't totally agree with all of that, but as suburbs age, they definitely run into the same problems cities have — only without the inherent advantages of the urban core. Take Hickory Hill, for example. I think Dr. Janikowski and Dr. Betts with the U of M have talked about relocating site-based services (or having them relocated) to apartment buildings in Southeast Memphis.

The idea is that is where those services' clients are and, if the clients can't get to the service, bring the service to the clients.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Memories of the Negro Leagues

"Joe Scott: Memories of the Negro Leagues," a documentary in which Memphis Redbirds vice president Reggie Williams interviewed the former baseball player, was recently nominated for a regional Emmy award.

Scott played for the Memphis Red Sox from 1944 to 1949 and was the first African American to play at Wrigley Field. Last summer, the Memphian was "drafted" by the Milwaukee Brewers in a special draft for the surviving Negro League players.

From the Redbirds media release:

"Scott played during a time when some of the baseball’s greatest names graced the Negro Leagues.

'I can’t imagine the impact of meeting or playing against such baseball greats as Satchel Page, Cool Papa Bell, and Double Duty Radcliff,' Williams said. 'It had to have had a tremendous influence on Mr. Scott’s life and his ever present positive attitude to each day that he lives. He is truly a Memphis treasure.'"

Joe Scott: Back in the day

I met Joe Scott one Sunday at church years ago and was instantly charmed. I don't know if he still does this, but at the time, he used to carry around laminated copies of his baseball cards and give them out. I wish I could find the card he gave me — I think it said something about him swinging a big stick and he explained to me that meant he was a good batter.

A Commercial Appeal story from last year says that he had a .714 batting average one season, so I guess so.

The Mid-South Regional Emmies will be announced Jan. 24th.

Mall Moments

Slate has a great first-person story about a man who volunteered to work on the Mall on Inauguration Day.

"In preparatory e-mails leading up to the big day, I was told that my service would entail safety, information, surveillance, and watching for "unruly guests." Until I spotted the plethora of National Guardsmen, police, Secret Service, and Eagle Scouts, I thought this might have involved brandishing a taser. Alas, the guys in full uniform handled the more exciting jobs. My wife and I, sporting red knit caps with 'volunteer' stitched across the forehead, greeted people and fielded questions. ('Sir, this is the Mall' and 'Ma'am, the Porta-Potties are over there' were my two most popular replies."

Writer Nicholas Schmidle talks about the cold, the crowd, the heckling of former president George W. Bush and veep Dick Cheney, and "little hotties" hand warmers, but it was really about a call to service. He concludes:

"I guess that's what service is supposed to be all about: never expecting anything in return. Of course, when you think about it, the reward—and the inspiration—is now sitting in the White House. So maybe that's why it was so easy to volunteer. In Obama's America, I hope to start doing it a whole lot more."

BONUS: Slate also ran a story by Seth Stevenson about how many inaugural balls one man, wearing a tuxedo and running shoes, can attend. Or endure. On a Segway.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Green Fees

Justin Timberlake's Millington golf course is going to be a little greener than most.

During our morning meeting today, Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden mentioned that the golf course was going to be ecologically friendly when it re-opens. The buildings, for instance, will meet the highest LEED standards.

From a PGA interview with the singer last September:

"We said why don't we refurbish it and make it even nicer for the community. Then I asked questions about what we could possibly do, and we found out we could actually make it a 'green course.' So when it's finished this summer it will be a Platinum LEED certified green course. The first in the United States of America, so that's pretty exciting that you could take all that land and make it eco-friendly."

Mrs. O

Everything you ever wanted to know about Michelle Obama's outfits for the Inauguration. And a slideshow.

I have a feeling Michelle is going to be a style icon for many years to come. She just has such great presence and presentation ( yes, I totally am in love with her! Just call me Tim Sampson. Just read his Memphis Flyer rant this week and you'll understand.) She has even pulled off the belted sweater look, which I personally have never quite figured out how to do.

She take chances, as well, which I like. And she's definitely not frumpy.

Nancy Drew: You found this yet?

Create your own Obamicon.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Smart is the New Cool

I'm not going to try to compete with inauguration coverage today, so I just thought I'd point out some interesting stories ...

Like the NYT story about the inauguration and how it may help female scientists.

Or about Michelle Obama's dress (I loved that the family was color-coordinated on election day. Now they seem to have done the opposite, each person with their own bold color, to the same great effect).

How Barack Obama is stimulating the national economy with all the sales of t-shirts, piggy banks, basketball jerseys, yo-yos, thongs, cuff links, and other merchandise bearing his name or likeness.

A inauguration attendee with a shrub-covered bike helmet.


Things are a little crazy around the Flyer today, what with the Monday holiday, company-wide computer problems and, I don't know, a historic presidential inauguration!

But I should be back later. Just wanted to let the internets know what was up.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday odds and ends

Below, firing up the economy, recycling as a liability, and the end of an era.

— The Boston Globe thinks the current age of iconic architecture may be ending, in part due to the recession, but also in part to a change in how people see architecture:

"Suddenly architecture was in. Every city, it seemed, wanted to be like Bilbao, [Spain,] wanted its own daring, avant-garde iconic building. Usually that building was an art museum or a skyscraper. Every few months, someone announced plans for the new tallest building in the world. (The current candidate is Burj Dubai, still under construction, which when complete will be approximately twice the height of the Empire State Building.) ...

"All that fever now feels passe. Architecture students, I'm told, are more interested in so-called 'green architecture,' work that responds to the global crisis of climate and resources, than they are in artistic shape-making. They're interested in urbanism, in the ways buildings gather to shape streets and neighborhoods and public spaces. They research new materials and methods of construction. Increasingly, they're collaborating with students in other fields, instead of hoping to produce a private ego trip."

— Writer Paul Loeb argues on that the way to kick-start the green economy is with highly efficient, American-made furnaces:

"I'm not saying high-efficiency furnaces solve all our economic or environmental challenges. Plugging building leaks, adding insulation and switching light bulbs give the maximum energy efficiency for the least expenditure of dollars. We need solutions that move us toward eliminating fossil fuel use altogether, like solar thermal, industrial-scale wind, advanced geothermal, ultra-efficient green buildings, and smart electrical grids. The 300,000-person Swedish city of Malmo already gets 40 percent of its residential heat (and 60 percent of its electricity) from a municipal incinerator plant and is steadily extending its district heating to the suburbs. We could do the same. But adding a high-efficiency furnace buys time — like scrapping a Hummer to drive a Ford Focus. It takes us part of the way — and if the furnaces are American-made, does so while keeping money in our domestic economy. If we could replace every furnace older than 10 years with a high-efficiency model, and mandate the same in new construction, we'd come out far ahead."

The Christian Science Monitor has a story about something that's happening here (and that I wrote about recently for the Flyer): the global demand for recycled goods has decreased, leaving many cities on the hook for their recycling costs:

"Recyclables have long been a volatile commodity, but the speed of the collapse has shocked the industry and exposed just how reliant it has become on foreign buyers, especially China.

The prices of newspaper and corrugated cardboard have fallen nearly 80 percent since last summer, when both were trading at over $150 a ton, according to Recycling Resource Magazine and The Brown Sheet, an industry pricing newsletter. Today, cardboard trades at $32 a ton and newspaper at $28 a ton."

Last I heard, Memphis was working on a deal to not get paid for its recyclables, but not pay for them, either.

From the CSMonitor:

"Still, there's some optimism that the current crisis will be short-lived. Cities can expect less revenue from its recycling operations, but recycling won't simply disappear, says Jorge Santiesteban, solid resources manager for the city of Los Angeles.

In the short term, domestic recyclers can recoup some losses by charging higher collection fees – as Fountain Inn did. And most large cities negotiate long-term contracts with minimum prices to keep revenue flowing."

And if material is recycled, it at least keeps the city from paying to landfill it.

New Link

I've added a new link and, though I don't have time to get into a big thing right now, just wanted to point it out.

The Green Jobs Memphis blog. Enjoy! Or learn. Whatever.

More later.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tower of Power

A friend of mine thinks this would be a good idea for Memphis: concentrated solar power towers.

From the Guardian:

"Concentrated solar power (CSP) technology, as it is known, is seen by many as a simpler, cheaper and more efficient way to harness the sun's energy than other methods such as photovoltaic (PV) panels. But CSP only works in places with clear skies and strong sunshine."

In a Spanish project that's on the verge of completion, more than 1,000 mirrors are positioned to reflect sunlight at a central, 160-meter tower. Water in the tower is heated to 260 degrees Celsius, which produces steam that turns an electricity generating turbine.

Once it's completed, the CSP project near Seville will power 11,000 homes.

"John Loughhead, executive director of the UK Energy Research Council, said that [Spanish Energy company] Abenoga's tower approach at the new plant was relatively efficient 'because what you're doing is concentrating a very large area of sunlight on top of a very small area so you can get very high temperatures.'"

The EU plans to generate 20 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020.

My friend thinks it would be a good idea for Memphis to build a similar tower here, as well as a factory to manufacture the mirrors (which could then be sold to other cities). Memphis could then become a center for clean energy production.

The tower costs about $100 million, but as my friend points out, we spent $250 million on the FedExForum. And what kind of economic return are we getting on that right about now?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Seed Security

Crop Trust executive director (and former Memphian) Cary Fowler recently sent out an email updating people on his organization's accomplishments for 2008 and plans for 2009.

Among the accomplishments, the most publicized was perhaps the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which houses seeds from more than 24,000 crop species worldwide. The vault is the back-up for national genebanks and will ensure seed diversity for the future.

Over the next three years, the Trust will also be rescuing 100,000 distinct crop varieties that "otherwise would face extinction. Who knows what valuable traits for heat tolerance, disease and pest resistance and nutritional qualities will be saved as a result!" Fowler said.

He also noted that the new U.S. Farm Bill authorized a $60 million contribution to the Trust's endowment.

Going forward, the Trust is looking for a far-sighted donor to help completely endow a crop, such as wheat (it's kind of important to life as we know it), and is spearheading a strategy to collect and conserve wild botanical relatives of food crops.

Said Fowler: "We will work steadily to fashion these efforts into a global system capable of protecting the biological foundation of agriculture for at least as long as we'll need food and agriculture. That's a long, long time."

Chattanooga Hearts Art

Last night, I hung out with a friend of mine — a talented metalsmith/jewelry designer — who is planning to move to Chattanooga.

She raved about how beautiful Chattanooga was, but part of the city's attraction for her was its commitment to the arts and artists.

Though she chose not to participate in this program, she was telling me about ArtsMove Chattanooga, a initiative to relocate practicing artists into five targeted urban neighborhoods. So far, the program — which gives artists a $15,000 five-year forgivable mortgage — has moved 24 artists to Chattanooga.

From the group's website:

"CreateHere’s vision is that people in all walks of life, from near and far, experience Chattanooga as a community that embraces a broad spectrum of artists, encourages their endeavors, and creates a dynamic space for them to live and work. Our city values creativity and inspiration and sees practicing artists as an essential part of our cultural renaissance. Every day downtown Chattanooga is becoming a more vibrant place to live, work, and play. Through ArtsMove we are inviting artists in all manner of disciplines to come downtown, where the next evolution of Chattanooga is already taking place."

She was also talking about applying for one of CreateHere's MakeWork grants, which help provide funding for studio rental, tools, workshops, or other things they may need:

"MakeWork is an arts grant program open to emerging and established artists and artisans within a 50-mile radius of Chattanooga. The core mission of the program is to stimulate our city’s creative economy and empower artists and artisans with the tools to exceed and grow."

So there you have it. Chattanooga isn't just giving lip service to the arts; it's putting its money where its mouth is. I don't want to say definitively that this is a type of program Memphis should be doing, but this is a type of program Memphis should be thinking about. Especially if we want to build on our heritage as a music/arts city.

I don't know where the CreateHere funding is coming from, but if I was an artist, the program would definitely persuade me to at least consider moving to the Noog. And if I liked it, great, and if I didn't, no big deal.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Have I Mentioned ...

That the Flyer is accepted nominations for our annual Hotties issue?

(yes, random picture of Justin Timberlake)

If you want to nominate someone, time is of the essence. Email their name, contact information, a little bit about them, and a photo to

Shovel Ready

Local groups are currently compiling a list of "shovel ready" projects for Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton to include in the city's request for economic stimulus funding.

Much of president-elect Barack Obama's focus has been on infrastructure projects that will be ready to go within three to four months of being funded. The stimulus plan is being touted as the largest public works program since the interstate system.

So far, some local projects that might be submitted include sidewalk improvements and trees on portions of Madison and Cooper, and a greenway connecting Overton Park with Overton Square.

The mayor is soliciting projects from the CCC, RDC, the Chamber of Commerce, the University of Memphis, the Bioworks foundation, and Southwest Tennesse Community College, among others.

I'm all for an economic stimulus, believe me, but I think we have to be careful of building things as the answer. City CFO Robert Lipscomb will tell you that when the city builds something with money from its capital fund, it tries to calculate the effect the new facility will have on its operating fund.

On the other hand, I also think there are smart ways to spend the money: renovations to make government buildings more energy efficient, for instance, would mean cost savings in the future (not to mention the example it sets for others).

Monday, January 12, 2009

Saving the Suburbs?

With the mortgage crisis ongoing, NYT blogger Allison Arieff says the question now "isn't really how to better design homes and communities, but rather what are we going to do with all the homes and communities we're left with."

"In urban areas, there’s rich precedent for the transformation or reuse of abandoned lots or buildings. Vacant lots have been converted into pocket parks, community gardens and pop-up stores (or they remain vacant, anxiously awaiting recovery and subsequent conversion into high-end office space condos). Old homes get divided into apartments, old factories into lofts, old warehouses into retail."

But what to do with the disposable houses in the suburbs? Those neighborhoods that were never finished or the houses that have been abandoned?

Arieff mentions swimming pool skate parks, de-construction for material reuse, and subdivided McMansions, among others:

"I did visit a housing development last year that offered 'quartets,' McMansions subdivided into four units with four separate entrances. These promised potential buyers the status of a McMansion with the convenience of a condominium, but the concept felt like it was created more to preserve the property values of larger neighboring homes than to serve the needs of the community’s residents."

(Actually, Arieff's blog post touches on a lot of subjects near and dear to my heart: Dogtown and Z-Boys, Van Jones, Julia Christensen's book, 'Big Box Reuse.'")

It's an interesting post, but just as interesting are the ideas from her commenters: retrofit homes for senior housing, used abandoned neighborhoods for fire department training, or deconstruct the communities and let nature take its course.

Jobs and Gender

USAToday reports that men are losing jobs at a higher rate than women during the current recession.

Since December 2007, the jobless rate for men rose from 4.4 percent to 7.2 percent while the jobless rate for women rose from 4.3 percent to 5.9 percent during the same time period.


Because "the types of jobs women hold generally offer more stability, albeit at less pay."

The story says that 75 percent of the workers in health care and education are women, while men dominate the fields of construction and manufacturing.

Women are also more likely to work part-time, making them less vulnerable to cut-backs.

I'm not sure anyone can consider this good news, given the overall increase in joblessness, but the story does point out that the trend is helpful to dual-income households. (And are there many at this point that aren't?)

The story quoted Donna Ginther, director of the Center for Economic and Business Analysis at the University of Kansas:

"It's a kind of built-in insurance. If you lose one of two incomes and you are losing the highest income, it hurts, but it's not as catastrophic as say, losing the only income in a household."

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Dooce

One of my favorite bloggers — and I know I'm not alone here, judging by all the Bloggies she's won — is the very funny Heather Armstrong of Dooce.

Now living large in Utah, Armstrong was once a Memphis girl (and Bartlett High School valedictorian).

Earlier this year, she edited a collection of essays on fatherhood, but her new memoir — "It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita" — will be released March 24th.

And you can already pre-order it on Amazon.

I interviewed Armstrong for the Flyer last February and found her just as fabulous by phone as by internet. To read that story, click here.

Friday morning odds and ends

Don't Pet the Panda: A panda in Beijing bit his third tourist in two years, after a man jumped in the panda's pen to retrieve his son's toy. Despite their obvious cuteness, pandas have large molars and strong jaws and will attack if provoked.

— President-elect Barack Obama has asked Congress to push back the switch to digital television, citing problems with the converter coupon program (for one, it's out of money). If you use an antenna for your TV and already have a converter box, I would suggest hooking it up. If you don't, well, you might get a reprieve. From Obama's letter (via The Washington Post):

"Millions of consumers could now be forced to spend their own money to navigate this federally mandated transition," the letter says. "This economic climate is not the right time to ask consumers to dig deeper into their own pockets to pay for the miscalculation by the federal government. "

Big Budget Bust? A study out of New Mexico says that film incentive programs don't pay off. From

"It would be easy to conclude that New Mexico's program of tax incentives for film and TV producers has been a big success. The state is hosting roughly 10 times as much film production as it did a decade ago. Albuquerque is now home to some of the largest soundstages in the world, and Sony Pictures Imageworks plans to move its special-effects operations to a new location there.

But a look at the numbers suggests that all this new activity has come at considerable cost. During the past fiscal year, according to a recent study, New Mexico granted $38.2 million in tax rebates for TV and movie production, but in return saw only enough increase in economic activity to generate $5.5 million in public revenue. 'For every one dollar in rebate,' the study concluded, 'the state only received 14.44 cents in return.'"

Not a very good rate of return. And the story notes that all but 10 states have created film-incentive programs over the last 5 years.

— And just for fun: The NYTimes says the mustache is back. I don't necessarily believe them (or maybe I don't want to) but that's what they say:

"It, like the beard, enjoyed its most widespread popularity between 1850 and 1900; John Wilkes Booth, it must be conceded, had a beaut. But today, the mustache cannot shake its ties to the sexy-yet-buffoonish machismo of the mid-1970s, epitomized by Burt Reynolds, Sam Elliott and the Village People, ’stache sporters all."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Outsourced Extra

Here's an idea: Be a Bollywood extra.

Apparently, after November's terrorist attack, they are having trouble finding Western extras.

If I wasn't so busy, I would totally try and do this. Because the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is turn on the radio and dance my Bombay off.

After Steel, a Successful City

I have sort of a soft spot for Pittsburgh. When I lived in Ohio, we were pretty much on top of the PA border. And we were definitely in what was called the "Rust Belt," because of the decline of the area's steel industry.

The NYT has a story today about Pittsburgh and how it's succeeding without steel:

"Unemployment is 5.5 percent, far below the national average. While housing prices sank nearly everywhere in the last year, they rose here. Wages are also up. Foreclosures are comparatively uncommon.

A generation ago, the steel industry that built Pittsburgh and still dominated its economy entered its death throes. In the early 1980s, the city was being talked about the way Detroit is now. Its very survival was in question."

Now two of its biggest industries are education and health care (known as eds and meds). Both are fairly resistant to downturns, tho the story points out that Pittsburgh had the luxury of rebuilding while the county had a strong economy.

From the story:

"The question is whether Pittsburgh can serve as a model for Detroit and other cities in the industrial Midwest as they grapple with large-scale cutbacks in the automotive industry. Even with the federal government’s $17.4 billion bailout, General Motors, Chrysler and Ford are expected to continue shrinking."

Eds and meds are a good platform for a strong economy; hospitals and colleges, for instance, generate revenue, as well as jobs. They can anchor communities, as well as provide resources to them.

But the caveat with those sectors is that for them to create real economic development for a city, they need to bring in capital from outside the community.

Bin There, Doing That?

The City Council's park and environment committee discussed (sort of) two ideas to make Memphis a greener city this week.

The first was to put recycling bins around the city, much like public garbage cans.

The second was to ban plastic bags at events on public property — festivals, 5Ks, and parades — that require council approval. That proposed ordinance would also require the host groups to provide recycling bins.

I wrote about the first proposal
— which I think is a great idea — in this week's Flyer, but only touched on the second because the committee did not have a full discussion on it this week.

Parks and environment committee chair Jim Strickland proposed the second initiative.

"Why do we want to reduce the use of plastic bags? I think they cause a lot of blight in certain areas of the city," Strickland told me in a phone interview. "You get them flying through the air and they get caught up against fences.

"I'm not fooling myself that it will have a huge effect, but I hope it would do some good."

I asked if Strickland, who doesn't consider himself "super-green," had any plans to for a wider plastic bag ban. He said he didn't know if the council had authority to do something like that.

"I'd like to see how it works on a small basis," he said. "That would be such a major change for the stores. It would require a huge amount of research and an effort to get people to buy into it, and I don't think we're there yet."

Strickland confessed that he was actually more excited about the second part of his proposal: having recycling bins at festivals. (The public event plastic bag ban was actually proposed a few years ago by former councilman Dedrick Brittenum.)

"You go to an event, you have a can of Coke or a bottle of water, and they're just thrown in the garbage," he said. "If you offer people the opportunity to recycle, I think a good percentage will."

But after the general discussion about recycling bins in public places, Strickland held his proposed ordinance.

Public works director Dwan Gilliom, along with Andy Ashford, head of the city's recycling program, were concerned about contamination in public recycling bins.

"If you put a dumpster out, it looks like it's for trash," Ashford said. "Even if it says it's for recycling, people are going to put their trash in it."

Gilliom said that while he was in Denver (one of the cities that pushed Barbara Swearengen Ware to propose having recycling containers in public places) he saw volunteers manning recycling bins and making sure no one contaminated them with regular trash. And that host organizations for festivals and 5Ks might need to have volunteers doing that to make the recyling bins work.

Personally, I think this is an educating-the-people thing. Two years ago, I went to the Germantown Festival — where I witnessed the awesome Grand Weenie Race — and they had special recycling containers for water and soda bottles.

They didn't have any volunteers manning them, but they were clear plastic bags hanging off a metal base and were clearly marked "plastic recycling."

I didn't take a scientific inventory or anything, but if memory serves, they were filled with plastic drink bottles and not food or other trash. I think it helped that the mouth of the bin was just big enough for a drink bottle, but my point is, this can be done. It's not rocket science.

And, really, so what if some of the bins get contaminated? Then I guess that load of trash will have to be thrown away, just like it would be if there were no recycling bins at all.

As long as most of the bins don't get contaminated, the city (and the environment) benefits.

The only way people are going to learn about public recycling bins is to expose them to public recycling bins.

"This is something Memphis may be a little behind some cities on and I think it's time to catch up," Strickland said.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Windy City

New York is beginning to look a little like my parents' hometown of Sweetwater, Texas.

(If such a thing is possible.)

In Sweetwater, wind turbines are some of the tallest structures around. In New York, wind turbines are on top of some of the tallest structures around.

From the NYTimes:

"A handful of buildings are already drawing electricity from wind turbines, which typically resemble table fans, or mounted airplane propellers. ...

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg stoked excitement among wind-power advocates in August when he announced that he supported putting turbines atop city skyscrapers.

Of the 60 proposals that were later submitted to the city under a request for renewable-energy projects, the majority were wind related, including technologies for apartment-mounted machines, said Jen Becker, a vice president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. 'It’s definitely something we are looking at seriously,' she said."

Unfortunately, the city's many buildings make it difficult to capture enough strong, steady gusts, but, in one project, the turbines are expected to cut utility costs in half.

Memphis Mention

In a story on alternative destinations for Inauguration Day, USAToday suggests traveling to the National Civil Rights Museum:

"Museum exhibits are usually closed on Tuesdays, but from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the museum will host a big-screen television airing of the inaugural festivities in Washington. Events coordinator Connie Dyson indicates the event was hatched after input from prospective visitors who could not travel to Washington: 'That's definitely the feedback we've been hearing from people who are interested in attending.'"

Just Like Jamie Lynn?

USAToday is reporting that teen birth rates are up in 26 states, signifying a reversal of a downward trend that spanned from 1991 to 2005.

Teen birth rates, up 3 percent overall in 2006 (the most recent data available), were up among teens 15 to 17 and 17 to 19, teens white, black and Hispanic.

The states with the highest teen birth rates are in the South, with Mississippi leading the pack.

So what's driving the increase?

Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, points to high-profile unmarried births.

From the story:

"'In the last couple of years, we had Jamie Lynn Spears. We had Juno and we had Bristol Palin. Those three were in 2007 and 2008 and not in 2005 to 2006, but they point to that phenomenon,' she says."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Banking a Billion

My friend Tom Jones of the Smart City Memphis blog recently forwarded me a very interesting presentation from CEOs for Cities and done by Portland economist Joe Cortright.

The CityDividends report looked at certain costs and savings associated with three components it referred to as talent, green, and opportunity (basically education, transportation, and poverty) in the 51 U.S. metro areas with more than a million people.

The question: If those components could be transformed, even very marginally, how much of a difference could it make?

The answer: $166 billion.

And $1.3 billion annually in Memphis.

Those economic gains could be achieved by:

1. Increasing the four-year college attainment rate by 1 percentage point
2. Reducing the vehicle miles traveled by one mile per day per person
3. Reducing the poverty rate by one percentage point

(The report makes clear that the study focused on the quantifyable benefits only, not the policies or programs that it would take to get there. BUT I think the CityDividends report shows how even a small change can make a big difference.)

For instance, Memphis had the highest poverty rate — about 18 percent — of the 51 metropolitan areas surveyed.

But if the poverty rate could be decreased by one percentage point here, the study says the economic gain would be $109 million.

The study hypothesizes that households living in poverty are a driver of public service costs and thus, reducing poverty, even by a percentage point, would reduce public sector costs:

"Each additional person in poverty is associated with $8,200 in spending on poverty-related programs for the entire metro area," the presentation says. "These savings come from shifting the entire distribution of income, not just moving a few households out of poverty."

When Cortright was in town last year to kick off the Sustainable Shelby intiative, he talked about how driving fewer miles meant savings in citizens' pockets ... and that equals more money that can be spent elsewhere.

That can be achieved by people simply driving less or carpooling, or, for a longer-term solution, building things closer together.

According to the study, if Memphians could drive one mile less per day, the area would reap a dividend of $232 million a year.

"Each vehicle mile traveled costs about 50 cents, including fuel, maintenance, and capital costs. At current gas prices, fuel represents about one-third of total vehicle costs," the presentation says.

In terms of education, the study makes the case that better-educated cities have higher incomes, better-skilled workers are more innovative and productive, and that each 1 percentage point increase in college attainment is associated with a $763 increase in per capita income for the entire metro area.

Of course, yes, the question now is how to attain some of these dividends. But having quantified economic benefits associated with the components — rather than just "drive less, it's better for the environment and it saves you money" — should make pursuing them all the more attractive.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Snow Base, Bamboo Boards

Snowboarders, long obsessed with the white stuff, are starting to see green.

A story last week in the NYT detailed how more snowboard makers are offering eco-friendly boards this ski season. Right now, green boards account for only 2 percent of the $140 million board market.

From the NYT:

“'Snowboarders are attached to the natural world,' [Alex Warburton, product line manager for Salomon Snowboards of France] said. 'They are going to be more apt to buy something that he or she feels is ecologically better for the planet. And if more sales are determined by how green you are, then you’re going to have everybody doing it.'”

Venice, California, company Arbor has been making snowboards out of cork and bamboo since 1995. Mervin Manufacturing has been making green boards for two decades. And Burton — with a market share that ranges between 40 percent and 70 percent, depending on the region — has come out with its first green snowboard, the Eco Nico.

(Treehugger asks if any snowboard can really be ecologically friendly, considering how the sport affects the environment, but I'm not going to get into that.)

Right now, green boards like the Eco Nico are priced between $500 and $700. But company representatives say that by 2010, half of the contents of Burton's snowboards will be the materials that have gone into the Eco Nico. More importantly, the overall integration of the green technology will not increase the cost of Burton boards.

Said Todd King, Burton's snowboard business unit director: “Once you get to that tipping point, and have the numbers behind you, it’s really easy to justify — because instead of just buying enough materials for the Eco Nico, you’re buying for the whole line.”

Friday, January 2, 2009

Dawn of Digital

A few weeks ago, I interviewed FCC lawyer Katherine Power about the upcoming switch to digital television (the switch is a way to free up analog signal for police and safety signals, as well as more wireless devices).

As part of a 80-city FCC tour, Power came to Memphis to dispel myths about the switch. In my interview with her, she re-iterated that if you have cable or satellite, you won't need a digital converter box (altho, in the exception that proves the rule, if you have satellite and you're getting your local channels over the air, you will.)

She also advised antenna-users to go ahead and hook up a digital converter box now. Analog televisions won't go black until February 17th (when television stations begin broadcasting in only digital) but she said there was no reason to wait.

She was completely right. I hooked up my digital converter box over the holidays and it is awesome. I was actually just using my TV's built-in antenna (yep, it's pretty low tech over at Casa de Cash) and my stations would always come in grainy and fuzzy. Watchable, but just barely.

Now, all my stations — with the exception of Channel 5, which I've heard isn't yet broadcasting at full capacity — are better than watchable. They're beautiful. I mean, it's not HD or anything, but there's no fuzz. No grain. No wavy lines across Gossip Girl. Just a clear-as-day picture.

My picture is smaller than my TV screen, which I think is odd, but other than that, my switch to digital is a success.

If you need to get a rebate coupon for a converter or have questions about the switch, visit the FCC here.

Consumerist Consumed?

One of my favorite websites — Gawker Media's the Consumerist — has been bought by the company that owns Consumer Reports.

A story in the NYT says Consumer Reports is interested in attracting younger readers:

"It is also something of a logical fit. Consumerist is popular, with about 1.8 million unique visitors a month, according to the online measurement service Quantcast, but has had trouble attracting advertising because the site often criticizes companies."

I was worried that, like Consumer Reports' website, the Consumerist would becomes subscription-based (especially since the new owners won't be selling online ads) but the site's editors say content will remain free.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Out with the old, in with the new, right?

I'm a big fan of Emily Yoffe's Human Guinea Pig column for Though she most recently became a historical re-enactor on a "Colonial Farm," other columns have seen her become a drag king, compete in a Mrs. America pageant, and work at a day care.

I mention this because it's the New Year and people will be coming up with their resolutions (what'd I say about traditions and this holiday?) and before you go with a predictable "lose 10 pounds" or "eat more black eyed peas" or whatever, I thought this might provide some inspiration to try new things.

Maybe not dressing up as a drag king new things (though, if so, go for it) or trying to win a pageant new things, but new things nonetheless.