Friday, April 17, 2009

Dear John

I don't know quite how to say this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Door Dash Deadline — Today!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

United We Planned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Junkyard

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Test Drive a Scion, Drink Coffee, Support UrbanArt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 13, 2009

Urban Alleys

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flyer Spyer: Mischa Barton

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

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

Friday, April 10, 2009

Shelby Farms Community Gardens Update

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Here is what it looks like today:

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

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Flyer 3.0

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Flyer Four

Coach Cal completely messed up my bracket.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Balanced Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reuse Round-Up

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

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

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

Monday, April 6, 2009

Empire Waste

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

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

From the NYTimes:

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

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

Also, and I love this:

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 3, 2009

Overton Park Petition

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

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

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

Thursday, April 2, 2009

One Wall at a Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

This just might have me detouring down Madison.

Greater Greenline

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Old Building, New Leaf

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

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

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

Abandoned Homes

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

Now banks are walking away, as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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