Thursday, May 27, 2010

Degree of Graduates

Posted By on Thu, May 27, 2010 at 8:45 AM

For this week's print edition — the one with the dice on the cover — I wrote about Leadership Memphis' college attainment initiative.

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In the Memphis metro area, only 23.7 percent of the population has a college degree, leaving Memphis ranked 48th out of the top 51 metropolitan areas in college attainment.

Based on research done by Joe Cortright for CEOs for Cities — which said that a one percent increase in college attainment could equal a $1 billion talent dividend for the local economy — Leadership Memphis wants to increase college attainment to almost 25 percent over the next five years.

A college degree doesn't necessarily guarantee economic prosperity but, along with children born out of wedlock, it is a strong indicator of whether or not a person will fall below the poverty line.

One of the initiative's early focuses is on those people who started college but, for whatever reason, never finished, and how to remove the obstacles to get them back in school. I put out a call for those people last week and heard some very interesting responses about their experiences.

Continue reading »

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fit for a Zombie

Posted By on Wed, May 26, 2010 at 9:35 AM

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  • Stacey Greenberg

Just in time for the annual Memphis Zombie Massacre — this Friday at 6:30 p.m on South Main — you can learn how to survive a Dawn of the Dead.

For those of you just as interested in zombie moves as zombie movies, this month's Wired magazine brings us this fun, little class: the St. Charles, Illinois, ZombieFit.

"To prepare for Z-Day, students do cardio, lift weights, and practice parkour maneuvers in a foam rubber mock-up of an urban environment.

'It's about being quick and efficient with your movements,' explains instructor Jess Randall."

To remain healthy — and alive — participants practice climbing, falling, hurdling, and breaking away from a zombie's death grasp.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Private Time

Posted By on Tue, May 25, 2010 at 4:24 PM

I just sort of mentioned/glossed over this in a straight news blog post, but the word of the day was definitely privatization.

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"I don't think we automatically say we're deadset on outsourcing, that's it, no discussion," Memphis mayor A C Wharton told the council's operating budget committee. "We're saying, let's open this up. Here's the savings the ABC company says they can do. Will y'all [city workers/unions] take a look at it?"

"It doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. It can be a win-win proposition."

This is an idea proposed [this morning even] by former Indianapolis mayor/Harvard professor/New York deputy mayor Stephen Goldsmith at a Rebuild Government forum. During his tenure as mayor, Goldsmith cut costs in the city by $400 million, some by making public service work competitive.

When bidding out projects, they would allow the public sector if they could find a way to do it as cheaply or efficiently, and more often than not, the public sector won.

"Public employees are not inferior to private employees; the public system was inferior to the private one," he said. "The incentives were different."

Continue reading »

Council Committee Passes $8 Million in Budget Cuts

Posted By on Tue, May 25, 2010 at 3:56 PM

The City Council's operating budget committee approved Mayor Wharton's proposed budget cuts, excluding $1.4 million for parks and public services.

"I don't believe we've gotten any emails about anything in the city attorney's office. No one in city has emailed us about personnel vacancies in general services," said council member Myron Lowery. "We have, however, heard a lot from citizens on golf courses, community centers, day camps, and police services."

A city council committee had earlier recommended closing the city's three nine-hole golf courses in Overton and Riverside parks and in Whitehaven. Wharton's initial proposal also saved the courses, at least for the first three months of the fiscal year.

"If we cannot make [Riverside and Overton] operate at a break-even level, I'm going to come back to this body and say we've got to close them," Wharton said, "unless this body says we're going to subsidize them."

Whitehaven wasn't included for closure under the mayor's proposal.

Continue reading »

MATA's Dump the Pump Discount

Posted By on Tue, May 25, 2010 at 8:30 AM

As part of this year's Dump the Pump day, MATA will be offering 7-day passes for $10 from June 14th to 18th. The new unlimited-ride weekly FastPass, started as part of MATA's elimination of its problematic transfer system, usually costs $15.

For persons who are seniors or have disabilities, the weekly pass will cost only $5 during the Dump the Pump celebration.

National Dump the Pump Day encourages people to ride public transportation to save money, protect the environment, and reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil.

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"The whole point of the FastPass is to encourage people to ride MATA more," said MATA spokesperson Alison Burton.

As part of its monthly meeting yesterday, MATA board members also approved a $77,000 route scheduling software package from Trapeze. Using current data, the "Blockbuster" software will create the best route scenario, and allows automation of cutting runs and testing alternative scenarios.

"We're doing that manually now," said MATA president William Hudson.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

First 48 Controversy in Detroit

Posted By on Sat, May 22, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Remember when the City Council decided they didn't want The First 48 filming in Memphis?

Maybe there were on to something.

From the NYTimes' Tragedy in Detroit, With a Reality TV Crew in Tow, about the killing of a 7-year-old girl during a police raid:

"Even in Detroit, where deadly violence can seem routine, Aiyana’s killing has transfixed the city, leaving many questioning what they see as heavy-handed tactics by the police — particularly the use of the so-called flash-bang grenade on a Sunday night in a residence where children were known to live.

Beyond Detroit, the incident is raising a larger question in this age of reality TV: Does the presence of TV crews affect how well police officers do their jobs?

'Those cameras can influence the behavior of what’s already a very dangerous and unpredictable job,' said Brian Willingham, a laid-off Flint, Mich., police officer and author of 'Soul of a Black Cop.'

Friday, May 21, 2010

Teachers, Education Reform, and Unions

Posted By on Fri, May 21, 2010 at 2:23 PM

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Just a heads up: The NYT Sunday magazine has a story this week about education reform and the tension between it and teachers' unions.

Memphis is actually on the forefront of these reforms, winning money from the Gates Foundation and being part of Tennessee's $500-million-winning Race to the Top application.

In the story, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen is cited as pushing legislation that made student test scores 50 percent of annual teacher evaluations, something critical for Race to the Top.

"Bredesen points to an earlier development in his state, that, he says, had 'broken the ice.' In 2009, the Gates foundation provided a $90 million grant to the Memphis school system — the state's largest — on the condition that teachers there allow 35 percent of their performance ratings to be based on student test scores."

Bike Path

Posted By on Fri, May 21, 2010 at 11:21 AM

Marvin Stockwell started riding his bike to work about six weeks ago.

"That was after a year of thinking about it," he said. "I would see my buddy [bicycle advocate] Anthony Siracusa ride his bike everywhere."

It was just in time to get the jump on National Bike-to-Work Week. Today's Bike-to-Work Day dawned sort of cloudy and overcast, perfect weather for a group of seasoned and inexperienced riders to bike downtown, where the Center City Commission had "energizer stations" on North Main, South Main, and in the Medical Center District.

Energizing at Central Station
  • Energizing at Central Station

Dawn Vinson is the project manager for Downtown Bike to Work Week. The Hickory Hill resident often rides her bike to do casual errands.

"We were sitting around one day and we thought, how can we get more people to ride their bikes?" she said. "How could we make it safe and fun?"

In addition to the energizer stations, the CCC organized group rides into downtown, as well as practice rides in the days leading up to Bike to Work Day.

"It can be stressful to ride with traffic if you're not confident in your skills. I prefer neighborhood streets with lower speeds. I'm must not ready to ride down Poplar Avenue," Vinson said. "We organized the meet-ups for those not confident in their riding skills or who don't want to do it by themselves or don't know how to choose a route."

Continue reading »

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MPO's Business As Usual?

Posted By on Fri, May 21, 2010 at 9:00 AM

(Blatant plug: This week, I wrote about the University of Memphis Livable Mid-South conference on transportation for our print issue. You should pick it up while you're out and about, OR you can click here.)

The Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) has moved into the next phase of its Imagine 2035 process. Now that the first round of public meetings is complete, the MPO is going to draft three different drafts of its land-use and transportation plan.

The first will show how things will develop if the area takes a "business as usual" approach, basically how development will continue for the next 25 years if we stay on our present course.

The second draft will show alternative scenarios, and the third will be the ideal scenario.

From what I recall, Nashville did this several years ago with Cumberland Region Tomorrow's Report to the Region and found it very helpful, especially comparing the "business as usual" approach to the ideal one.

The Report to the Region was published in 2003 and laid out the results of the 2001-2002 Regional Visioning Project showing how the 10-county region was growing and what could potentially happen if we continue to grow with business as usual planning and development practices.

Apparently, seeing where they were headed was enough to convince citizens that changes needed to be made.

Locally, the MPO should come back with its scenarios — and the next round of public meetings — in August. In the meantime, you can find them on Facebook or you can contact the MPO for a "meeting in a box."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tomorrow is Bike to Work Day!

Posted By on Thu, May 20, 2010 at 8:45 AM

Like Aaron Woolf says, I know transportation isn't the sexiest topics, but in terms of economic development and people's quality of life, it's really important to think about.

Do I really have to list the reasons why? No? Good.

Last week, I took a trip to Chicago, riding a double-decker bus from MATA's north terminal on Main Street to Union Station in Chicago to get there. On the way back, I took Amtrak. (Amtrak was much better than the bus, but it was also about three times as expensive. The bus fare was *very* affordable.)

Random vacation picture of Millennium Park. Are you jealous yet?
  • Random vacation picture of Millennium Park. Are you jealous yet?

While I was in Chicago, I also took a cab, grabbed a few rides in cars, and used the L every single day. Oh, and there was a lot of walking.

I think the only other means of transportation I might have missed was bicycling. But I have my chance to make up for it tomorrow when it's national Bike to Work Day!

Downtown is all over this this year, and the Center City Commission has organized several meet-up locations for people who want to ride with other people into downtown (let's be honest. If this is the first time you're riding a bike into work, it might be more safe, to hit the road with other people.)

Meet-ups are at Eastgate shopping center, the Brooks, and Otherlands. There is also a bike-to-work energizer center at Main & Greenlaw, and a bike-to-work event at Court Square from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

(Now all I have to do is find someone to loan me a bike.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Local Economy Fun Fact

Posted By on Wed, May 19, 2010 at 12:30 PM

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Fun fact I didn't get to use in this week's column about diversifying both transportation options and, to a lesser degree, Memphis' logistics based economy:

One in three local jobs are tied to the airport.

So, no offense UPS (b/c I know you have a base here, too) but I think I have to side with FedEx on the whole strike-limiting labor law thing.

Short Auto Trips the Norm

Posted By on Wed, May 19, 2010 at 8:30 AM

For our print edition this week, I wrote about the recent Livable Mid-South conference on transportation at the University of Memphis.

One of the speakers, Marianne Fowler, works with the national Rails-To-Trails Conservancy. The group is currently promoting the Active Community Transportation Act of 2010, which was introduced in Congress in March and would establish competitive funding for walking and bicycling improvements in targeted communities.

I think we all know how much we, as a nation, drive. But I thought it was interesting to hear how much of those trips are actually quite short. (And maybe even walkable or bicyclable?)

Twenty-seven percent of all automobile trips in this country are one mile or less.

Forty-eight percent are three miles or less.

"It's not our fault," Fowler says. "We live in an environment where that's almost required."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Slumming It in Rio

Posted By on Tue, May 18, 2010 at 1:35 PM

I don't think anyone doubts the power of public art to be transformative, but this is what the Santa Marta community in Rio de Janeiro used to look like.

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That is, until artists Haas & Hahn (Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn) got a hold of it. The pair began working together for a 2005 documentary for MTV about hip-hop in Rio and Sao Paolo. The next year, they decided to collaborate with local youth to paint murals in Brazil's poorest neighborhoods.

In Santa Marta, a group of local residents were instructed on everything from different types of paint to safety measures while working on scaffolding. Because every wall was a different material, the painters learned what worked on different surfaces and, as importantly, also got a month's paycheck.

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The end result is a really cool project that encompassed 34 houses, or 7,000 meters of "hillside slum."

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Tiger Green

Posted By on Mon, May 17, 2010 at 8:30 AM

Last year around this time, we wrote about community gardens being planned for the University of Memphis campus.

Karyl Buddington, director of animal care at the university, plants a vegetable garden in her yard every spring. Earlier this year, she proposed doing the same thing at the university.

"I think everybody is a little uncertain about the future because the economy hasn't been so great," she says. "I do a lot of walking on campus. I thought, What if we put vegetables and herbs in place of all of the flowers we put in and take out each season?

"The more people I talked to, the more interest there was," she continues. "All of a sudden, we had a core group that was terribly excited about putting these plants in."

Looks like they're doing it again this year.

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Continue reading »

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Electric Slide

MGLW plans to put Smart Grid meters in 1,000 homes as part of a demonstration project.

Posted By on Wed, May 12, 2010 at 4:25 PM

Cooper-Young resident Chad Ahren says he's always thinking about the little things he can do for the environment. He recycles, uses canvas bags at the grocery store, and recently volunteered for a new smart meter from MLGW.

"If the city can encourage people to use power at certain times, I'm all for that," Ahren says. "As a family, we can learn what the best times are to use energy and save some money, but that's just a bonus for me."

As part of a three-year demonstration project, MLGW plans to choose 1,000 volunteer residential customers for new smart meters. With the meters, MLGW will be able to evaluate the utility's peak hours for energy consumption and then offer customers discounts for off-peak usage.

"This provides customers with the opportunity to adjust their energy usage instead of getting a bill that tells you how you did the previous month," says Glen Thomas, supervisor of communications and public relations at MLGW. "What you do with that information is up to you."

But MLGW is hoping that the million-dollar demonstration program will show that customers with smart meters reduce their energy usage. Implementing smart meters countywide would cost roughly $175 million, but MLGW estimates it will save between $15 million and $115 million annually and reduce energy consumption by 2 to 15 percent.

Currently, local electricity usage is 36 percent higher than the national average, a statistic MLGW would like to see change.

"There's quite a bit of room for improvement," says Rick Bowker, manager of information services at MLGW and the head of the Smart Grid project. "A lot of homes here were built in the '40s and '50s, and they're not very energy-efficient."

Volunteers with the program will be able to track their energy usage on MLGW's website, but some households will also receive in-home displays that show up-to-the-minute energy-use data.

"Right now, we read the meter once a month," Bowker says. "We cannot provide you 15-minute-interval data. We don't have the capability.

"You have a 30-year-old freezer your grandmother gave you, but you don't know how much the freezer is taking in utilities. With the Smart Grid technology, you will know how much energy it's taking you to run it and you can see if you ought to replace it with a newer one that's more energy-efficient and save money in the long run," Bowker says.

In addition to cost savings for the consumer, MLGW hopes to save money system-wide through reduced personnel costs.

The utility has also touted the new system's advantages in safety, security, and customer service. Customers with smart meters won't need to keep gates unlocked for meter readers or rely on estimated bills if meters are inaccessible.

Powered by a backup battery, the meters will also let MLGW know immediately when a customer's power is out. The utility currently depends on customer calls to determine outages.

"We don't know a transformer is out until customers call," Bowker says.

Right now, about 10,000 meters are stolen each year and hooked up illegally. Because the smart meters function much like a cell phone and have a GPS, MLGW staff say that as soon as smart meters are turned back on, they will be able to find them.

Though the demonstration project is ostensibly to see if smart meters are a worthwhile endeavor, Bowker says all the utility companies he's talked with deem the meters a success. According to current estimates, smart meters will be in at least 60 million households — almost half of all U.S. households — by 2020.

"It's like going from a landline to a cell phone. Would you want to go back to a landline? Would you want to go back to a car without an onboard computer?" Bowker asks.

Customers can volunteer for the program at https://service.mlgw.org/smartgrid/ until May 14th. MLGW says it has yet to determine selection criteria, but volunteers can live anywhere in Shelby County as long as they have adequate cellular coverage. Volunteers should have also lived in their residence for at least three years, but they don't have to own their own home.

"I've never lived in a place that has done this. It's progressive. I want to be a part of it," Ahren says of his reason for volunteering. "Anytime I have the chance to support the city in making a future-leaning decision with a municipal service, I will."

For more on this and other topics, visit Mary Cashiola's "In the Bluff" blog at memphisflyer.com/blogs/InTheBluff.

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