Say what you will about types of in-fill development, getting people back into the core city is beneficial for Memphis.
Memphis' population isn't growing, so as people move out into the suburbs, it means building new schools, new sewers, and new roads for basically the same people who just left the old ones behind. It also means everything is more spread out, so people drive farther, spend more time in their vehicles, use more gas, and spend more of their income on transportation. Not to mention that hollowing out the urban core deflates the tax base, leaving less money for services.
But, with all the reasons people leave the city, how can you lure them back?
At any given time, Shelby County has an excess of about 3,000 properties in its land bank.
"They run the gamut from a ditch to an 11-story office building," says Tom Moss, land bank administrator, of the properties.
Last week, the County Commission approved the transfer of 140 inner city lots to developer Harold Buehler to build low-income rental houses. Because the areas affected already have high rental unit and vacancy rates, the proposal sparked controversy over what exactly should be done with vacant lots.
Once someone stops paying their property taxes, it takes the county trustee about three years to acquire the property, though legal proceedings begin much earlier than that. The county holds a tax sale six times a year and, if the properties are not sold at auction, they eventually become part of the land bank program. A list of those properties is published each month.
"The market is smarter than anyone would ever be. These people have generally been by the property," Moss says of the buyers who frequent the county's auctions. "What gets sold is the existing houses. The vacant lots don't and the house in disrepair don't."
Last week, the Shelby County Commission approved a proposal to build 125 homes on 140 lots in North Memphis neighborhoods.
The project came under fire for a number of reasons:
1. The developer, Harold Buehler, was using land from the Homestead program, which had essentially been seized from people who had not paid their county property taxes.
2. Buehler himself had almost $900,000 in back taxes owed to the county, and was also getting tax credits to do the $12 million project.
3. The neighborhoods where the new houses will be located have a lot of vacant properties and a lot of rental properties. And vacant, rental properties. Because of the tax credits the project uses, those new homes will have to be rental properties for the next 15 years.
4. Not all the neighbors knew about a) the proposal before it came to County Commission, or b) the Homestead program, which allows people to obtain county-owned lots for a small application free and a deposit. If they build affordable housing on the lot within 12 months of obtaining it, they get their deposit back.
During the same week, Overton Park was named one of The Cultural Landscape Foundation's 16 Landslide sites for 2009.
There are some places in town that you just have to see, but you rarely get an opportunity to do so. You know what I'm talking about ... historic mansions behind huge brick walls, the viewing area at the apex of The Pyramid, the upstairs of Graceland.
This morning, as I was motoring down Lamar Avenue, I stumbled on just such an opportunity: An estate sale at the historic Snowden home.
Like many cities, Memphis recycles some plastic products. Like many cities, Memphis does not accept recycled material that are coded as a 5.
And lots of things are 5's. Seriously, if you recycle plastic products, but you're not very observant about the numbers, you've probably been throwing 5's into your recycling bin without even knowing it.
I personally put 5's in my recycle bin to show that city of Memphis that there is a market for them to recycle them. I mean, if they're going to get pitched anyway, might as well try to do some good with them before they end up in a landfill somewhere.
But now there is a better way.
I've been to scads of the Coalition for Livable Communities' Pizza with the Planners series and I always learn something. Whether that's about zoning ... or the chamber's plan to grow Memphis' economy ... or that residents are concerned about Uptown ... or that I like pepperoni again, well, it's always something.
(And, in all seriousness, generally more than one something.)
Anyhoo, the next one is this Thursday at the Ben Hooks Library and is probably about the number one issue for most Memphians: How to make your neighborhood safer.
With representatives from the Memphis Police Department and the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, the session will look at how officers and resources are distributed across the county, how you can influence public safety laws at the state level, and how you can make your neighborhood safer.
As always, you need to rsvp (so they know how much pizza they need), but the event is free. To rsvp, call (901) 725-8370 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Someday, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday, the world is going to run low on fossil fuel. And when that happens, what will that mean for our country, our economy, and our very society?
In its October issue, the Sun magazine has a rather lengthy interview with James Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century and a foremost writer on the unsustainability of suburban sprawl.
In the interview, Kunstler talks about the new subplots in the oil story: major oil-exporting nations holding onto their supplies for their own use, or entering into favored-customer agreements with other nations, as well as how declining oil supplies would impact transportation, agriculture, and even Wal-mart:
"It’s no exaggeration to say that every benefit of modern life — from airplanes and air conditioning to supermarkets and hip-replacement surgery — owes its existence in one way or another to cheap fossil fuel. In particular, the American way of life, which is virtually synonymous with suburbia, can run only on reliable supplies of cheap oil and gas. Even moderate deviations in price or supply will make the logistics of daily life difficult."
You can read a selection of the interview here. For the full article, you'll have to get the print edition.
[And yes, SG, I may have snagged your magazine. Are you really surprised? But I promise you'll get it back.]
I heard a rumor today that Junkyard Memphis is looking at a possible location in Midtown, maybe something with more pedestrian traffic than their proposed temporary home, the building next to the Ornamental Metal Museum, has.
Junkyard Memphis is an initiative inspired by St. Louis' City Museum. You can read more about it — and Junkyard founder Lisa Williamson — here.
Personally, I would love to see the Junkyard locate on Broad Avenue. It's got this whole artist community thing going on — UrbanArt is right there — plus Broadway pizza and my personal Cheers, the Cove. It would have great synergy and would probably help redevelopment efforts along Broad, as well. A win-win, if you will.
After Hillary Clinton teared up in early January during the 2008 presidential race, the incident generated vast amounts of media coverage — about 500 stories.
Less than a month earlier, however, candidate Mitt Romney had also teared up. That incident generated 14 stories.
The situations were similar. Both Romney and Clinton were answering questions. In both cases, their voices quivered and their eyes teared up, but they didn't cry. So why would Clinton's tears be so much more newsworthy?
Was the discrepancy because Clinton was an election front-runner? A Democrat? A woman?
Erika Falk, the head of the master's in communications program at Johns Hopkins University and author of Women For President: Media Bias in Eight Campaigns, would no doubt attribute it to Clinton's gender. And armed with data from her book, I think she could make a very strong case to its truth.
No, no, you haven't reach Hungry Memphis by mistake.
I've been sitting on this video about food and cities for a few days, but it's well worth passing along.
In this TEDtalk, architect Carolyn Steel discusses how cities feed their residents: how urbanism grew up alongside agriculture, how ancient Rome effectively waged war against Carthage and Egypt to get its hands on their grain reserves — "one long drawn-out militarized shopping spree" — and how cities were physically shaped by food production and transportation.
After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Time magazine called the city a "decaying, backwater river town."
One wonders what they might say about us now. Unfortunately — or fortunately, because we've barely lived that label down — they're kind of busy right now.
Time magazine is spending the next year in Detroit. They've bought a house, thrown a lawn party, and already written their first cover story about Detroit: "Notown: Hubris, racial tension, myopic politicians and the woeful auto industry brought this iconic American city to its knees. Here's how the Motor City can rise again."
I've long thought of Detroit as Memphis' unofficial sister city. Both cities are shrinking in terms of population; both have high levels of poverty; both have a rich musical heritage. See the subhead above. With the exception of the "woeful auto industry," doesn't it sound sort of Memphisy?
Take this, for example:
If you missed Jimmy Ogle's tour of the Shelby County courthouse last month, you have a second chance tomorrow, Tuesday, October 13th.
Ogle and other docents will be giving tours at the 100-year-old courthouse as part of its centennial celebration. The event is from 4:30 p.m. to 7 on the south lawn of the courthouse and is hosted by the Memphis Bar Association, Shelby County government, Memphis Heritage, and AIA Memphis.
"Guests will learn everything from the fascinating architecture and construction of the building to the notable trials that have taken place within its walls and the grand figures who have walked its halls. As part of the educational aspect of the event, the organizers have contracted with Icon Archive Company to install displays in the Courthouse's south corridor, as a lasting contribution to the facility. Case highlights will be an exhibit about the movies filmed at the Courthouse, including Great Balls of Fire, The Rainmaker, The Client, A Family Thing and The People vs. Larry Flynt. The Memphis & Shelby County Television and Film Commission has loaned several items from these films."
Frankly, I had no idea so many movies had filmed there (and now I'm thinking about a crime and punishment theme for next year's fashion issue) but I can totally see it.
Last week, the Center for Livable Communities (CLC) made a strong case for regional collaboration.
At its Third Annual Summit for Neighborhood Leaders, the CLC focused on the connection between neighborhoods and the overall region with keynote speaker Bridget Jones, executive director of Middle Tennessee/Nashville’s Cumberland Region Tomorrow.
Cumberland Region Tomorrow encourages growth planning in a 10-county area in Middle Tennessee.
“Look at where your neighborhood fits in the spectrum,” Jones said. “See what you’ve got and what you need.”
CLC consultant John Lawrence and Josh Whitehead, head of planning for the city of Germantown, presented some disquieting data on population, sprawl, and retail growth.
[Side note: This week, in our paper product, I used some of their data in a piece about that Holy Grail of redevelopment — RETAIL — and asked if maybe it isn't something of a shell game, especially in Memphis.
Whitehead suggested that the different area jurisdictions have overzoned for commercial development because they are hungry for the sales tax it brings. “What you have is way too much retail space,” he said. “Bringing up tax sharing is probably worse than consolidation, but it helps to address constant sprawl.”]
A few years ago, some friends of mine were really keen on buying a stuffed giraffe head. I know, I know, but I totally egged them on to do it, too.
"Just think about the conversations it will start!"
"It's Memphis history! It's part of the collection that used to be housed at the Pink Palace."
"It's a giraffe! How cool is that? And it's already been dead for, like, 100 years, so, you know, you didn't kill it."
Where would you buy something like that, you ask?