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 sarah@livablememphis.org.

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 memphis.uli.org 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?