Last weekend saw one of my favorite holidays ... Black Friday, of course.
And what a Black Friday it was. (Watch for Cyber Monday figures tomorrow.)
For the last few weeks or so, I've helped a few friends update their wardrobes and it's meant that I've been shopping pretty much every weekend. And I cannot believe how many people have been out and about.
True, I've hit a bunch of sales, but this has been incredible. Lines six people deep. Cashiers at every register. It certainly looks like something is going right with the economy.
ShopperTrak says early November sales might have stolen some sales from Friday — and really, can you blame people for shopping early when we start seeing the candy canes come out before the Halloween candy? — but even so, there was a slight increase in the number of shoppers out from last year.
Guess we'll see what happens the rest of the holiday season ...
Well, I've got news.
After 10 years, I'm leaving the Flyer to go work for the City of Memphis as a specialist in brand management and civic engagement.
People — undoubtedly broken-hearted at the thought of never reading another well-reported story by me — have asked me why.
The reasons are many. Some personal. Some professional. One is simply that I've been a fan of Mayor Wharton since he was elected in Shelby County, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to work for him.
Another is that I believe in Memphis.
This is a place where if you have an idea or want to do something, no one is going to stop you from pursuing it. Look at Aaron Shafer. He came from California and wanted to get a skatepark built here. Sure, it took him five years, but the city is building a skatepark in Tobey Fields.
People have also asked how a journalism background is going to help me do my new job.
I've spent the last 10 years reporting on the city of Memphis. Through my work here, on this blog, and my companion column, I've looked at what makes cities successful, what doesn't, what we're doing in the city of Memphis to move forward, and what other cities are doing to meet challenges similar to those of Memphis.
I understand the realities of Memphis — its challenges and its opportunities. I'm hoping to use the skill sets I honed here to find bright spots that are happening in city government and the community, to communicate with the general public — both locally and nationally — about the amazing things going on in the city of Memphis, and, frankly, I hope to contribute to policy development that will make Memphis even better.
Crime is down 27 percent since 2006. People are exercising together in droves on the Shelby Farms Greenline, creating healthier habits and healthier communities. Citizens are looking to innovative strategies to make their neighborhoods more livable.
We're in an amazing place right now, and I can't wait to see what's next.
(I'll still be posting here for the next several days ... so feel free to check back. And thank you all for your continued support. It means the world to me.)
MATA board members approved San Francisco's Nelson\Nygaard Consulting for a $350,000 short-range transit plan yesterday.
The five-year plan is expected to address visioning, routes, scheduling, capital assets, and finances.
"Both supported a simple, more direct routing system," said board member John Vergos. "One thing they were both definite on is that if buses come every 20 or 30 minutes, you will see increased ridership on those routes. ... It gets back to directness, simplicity, and clarity."
"I'm hoping that when we have the new routes, they'll be much easier to understand."
Staff and board members interviewed the two finalists, Nelson\Nygaard and Perteet, Inc. earlier this month. The format included a 30-minute presentation and an hour-long Q&A.
The board also talked about needing an answer line that is easy to understand.
Last week, the Flyer ran a letter to the editor that said it took 36 prompts to find out what time the Poplar bus would arrive at the downtown terminal under MATA's new call system:
"With the old system, you could get the same information by responding to six prompts. With the old line, the time actually spent on the phone to get the information was a third of what is required with the new system," John Manasco wrote.
"We're working as hard and as fast as we can to correct the problem," MATA head William Hudson told the board when questioned. "We're trying to correct it."
The street will be striped with protected bike lanes and pedestrian crosswalks, the vacant storefronts filled with businesses and eateries, and an empty parking lot turned into a skatepark.
“We’re trying to give the street a facelift,” says Pat Brown, co-owner of Broad’s T. Clifton Art Gallery.
I'm looking forward to my friend Melissa Anderson Sweazy's Happiness store and pop-up shops by Blues City Thrift and Strange Fruit Vintage, but with all the people and organizations involved, I think there's going to be lots of great things to see and do.
Want to be a mentor or a tutor for an Memphis City Schools student but don't quite know where to start?
The local chapter of Stand for Children, a grassroots education advocacy group, recently launched puteducationfirst.org, a site where citizens can sign up to volunteer time or money to a number of local organizations.
"What makes this site different is the fact that we have pulled together organizations, including Memphis City Schools, who will assist in directing support resources to the appropriate school or person," Kenya Bradshaw, executive director of the local chapter, said in a statement.
"Oftentimes, people want to help, but don't know where to begin, so we will serve as a one-stop shop for public school assistance."
Supporters who sign up will receive information about volunteer opportunities through a network of non-profit organizations, including the Grizzlies' charitable foundation, TEAM UP, Our Children, Our Future tutoring program, Memphis City Schools Foundation and the Memphis Urban League.
Is Walgreens the answer to urban food deserts? (Regular Flyer readers might remember a cover story on local food deserts a bit ago.)
Yesterday's NYT magazine ran an interesting piece about an experiment in Chicago to eradicate food deserts. With drug stores ubiquitous even in neighborhoods where supermarkets are rare, Walgreens seemed an easy answer:
“That’s the exciting thing about Walgreens, they’re in so many places,” [study author Mari] Gallagher says. (It was during her research on Detroit that she was struck by the fact that pharmacies were practically the only mainstream chain presence, aside from fast food, in many neighborhoods.) Thus the pharmacy chain did not have to open new stores in food deserts, because it was already operating in plenty of them, and could use Gallagher’s data to pick locations for its experiment. Still, refitting the stores to offer 750 or so new products, including whole new categories, without expanding their actual size was a big undertaking. (About 20 to 25 percent of the square footage in each participating store is now given over to food.)
She doesn't think they're the only solution to the problem, but it seems a good start. Walgreens plans to test the concept in smaller stores in other cities. Not only is it a benefit to the neighborhood, but just by the area being a food desert, Walgreens knows the market isn't exactly saturated.
If you're an artist and you want to work with the UrbanArt Commission, December 3rd seems like an important day.
"We'll do mural classes for seven selected local artists who will be trained in the best practices in mural painting," says UrbanArt executive director John Weeden. "We have funding so each artist will be paid to participate and they'll get funding to create a mural somewhere in the city."
UrbanArt is currently working with the city to identify walls that are available (and owned by the city) where murals could be installed. They're also working with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program to make sure the artists learn how to make something that looks great and will last for decades.
"We're paying them to learn a set of skills that will launch their career or take their professional practice to the next level," Weeden says. "Not only will they be qualified to get local commissions, they'll be able to develop a national career because of this, and Memphis will be seen as a center where artists are on top of their game."
Artists have to have lived in Memphis for the past two years, and the due date for applications is December 3rd. The selection should be in January.
Aaaand b/c I love time-lapse videos, here is one of the mural at Madison and 3rd being painted.
7 Vance Avenue, a five-story, 186,000-square-foot building downtown, is looking for a good owner.
The Nylon Net Building dates to 1909, and renovation is estimated at just under $7 million. But the purchase price is ridiculously low: The current owner wants to donate it to a 501(c)(3) non-profit "and a worthy cause."
Suggestions for use include artist studios, gallery space, residences, or non-profit offices.
For all the info, click here.
In its early days, the local Rock-n-Romp gave musicians a t-shirt for performing at one of their kid-friendly shows.
Nowadays they pay the bands, but the shirts are still pretty hot commodities.
One featured a Big Wheel. Another a sit-and-spin. This year's was a rockin' robot.
What next year's will be — that might be up to you.
Rock-n-Romp is holding a contest to design next year's t-shirt, with the winner getting $200, a season pass to Rock-n-Romp, and two free t-shirts.
They are looking for a design that's "fun and bold." Children, parents, and artists are encouraged to enter. Just send a jpeg with the artist's name, age, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org by December 15th.
For more info, click here.
It’s been said that New York is the center of the universe. And maybe, in some respects, it is.
“For a number of reasons, the federal government works to take care of the largest cities first,” says David Westendorff. “They tend to drive the urban agenda.”
What does that mean for smaller cities? The University of Memphis wants to find out.
“You can’t expect a one-size-fits-all policy to work across a range of cities,” he says. “They have a different resource base. Certain fixes can only genuinely function when the city is of a certain scale.”
About 10 years ago, Ken Reardon, U of M’s director of the graduate program in city and regional planning, was working on this idea when he was at Cornell. It never got off the ground, but Reardon brought the idea to Memphis.
“There were a number of mayors of decent-sized cities around the country who had been trying to run and improve their cities but felt that basically, policies toward cities in the U.S. tend to get influenced much more by the large metropolitan cities,” Westendorff says.
Memphis is on the larger end of mid-size cities, but has an interesting scale. One of the reasons the city seems to be a good place to enact reform is that it has the same problems as larger cities, but on a scale that is more manageable for pilot programs.
Westendorff, a Charleston, South Carolina, native, recently authored a study about the impact of the Olympics on Beijing’s low-income residents. He has also contributed to five recent books on sustainable development practices, and is considered an expert on international development policy, social housing, and municipal reform and governance issues.
“Planners by nature want to plan things and see they somehow make the place where they’re working and living move from State A, which may not be optimal, to State B, which still may not be optimal but maybe better than it was,” Westendorff says.
The Mid-Sized Cities institute is in the early stages, but Westendorff says they’ll be preparing to do analyses on what kind of policies from the state and federal government will have “the most bang for the buck here.”
“I think, most importantly, we have to have a very open and fluid dialogue with this city. … People really can change their situation and the situation of their city, but it takes a lot of energy and passion.”
The steady stream of folks to a portion of the new Shelby Farms Greenline may be stopped — temporarily — by TDOT construction at Holmes Street near East High School.
Construction at Holmes Street was supposed to be completed prior to the opening of the greenline, but the project, which is funded largely by federal dollars, was delayed. Now construction is scheduled to start at the beginning of the year and be completed next August.
But at this morning's City Council parks committee meeting, engineering division director Wain Gaskins told members that his staff was trying to identify detour routes through area neighborhoods to maintain the flow of the greenline.
Shelby Farms Park executive director Laura Adams was also at the committee meeting this morning:
"Closing the greenline for eight months is very problematic. We need to find ways to minimize that," she said. "There is so much great buzz around the greenline right now. We're concerned about this hurting our long-term prospects."
Holmes Street will be closed to traffic during the construction in an effort to speed up the process.
The Council also asked about new signage near the intersections of the greenline and busy streets such as Highland and Graham. Adams said Shelby Farms felt comfortable putting signage on the greenline itself but would defer to the city on city cross streets.
"It's incredibly popular, beyond our wildest expectations," Adams said of the greenline. "We have 400 people per hour at any one location on Saturdays and Sundays. We're scrambling to be able to meet the popularity of the trail."
Though security incidents have been few, they recently won a grant to install security cameras along the trail. Adams also told council members to expect good news shortly on the effort to connect the greenline to the fairgrounds and to Overton Park.
I know we don't talk about art a lot on this blog — and this may be more suited for Exhibit M — but ART can be an important component of community and economic development.
Forget that. I won't mention how valuable a vibrant arts community is, or how public art is an amenity that contributes to residents' overall quality of life.
Instead I will mention the free drinks.
Tomorrow evening, ArtSpace will host an Artists Only Happy Hour at Playhouse on the Square from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
(I've seen artist defined as musician, performance artist, dancer, designer, painter, sculptor, actor, and most importantly, writer, so I'm in.)
It's all part of ArtSpace's launch of an online survey to determine the size and the needs of Memphis' creative community. The survey will be used to guide the development of affordable live/work space for artists in the city.
For more, click here.
“Here’s what I want you to think about: How can all of our efforts solve three or four problems at once?”
So said Vancouver deputy city manager Sadhu Aufochs Johnston at Livable Memphis’ 4th Annual Summit for Neighborhood Leaders Saturday morning at Bridges.
“Let’s rethink how we’re doing what we’re doing in cities,” he said. “We don’t have the money to do one-off solutions anymore.”
In Chicago, a 40-acre brownfield site that had been vacant for 30 years was rented to the utility company for a solar power system that can generate enough power for 10,000 homes.
"If we cleaned it up, it would be worth $2 million, but it was going to cost $30 million to clean it up," Johnston said. "After installing the solar system, the phones starting ringing off the hook. People and companies wanted to be near this thing."
On Saturday, Memphis was bombed.
Around noon, about 50 people gathered in the Washington Bottoms area to help artist Tommy Wilson do some guerrilla gardening.
Wilson, who we interviewed as part of last week's cover story on blight, filled balloons with a mixture of paint, wildflower seeds, and compost, and, with the assembled crowd’s help, both threw and launched the bombs into a vacant lot near Washington and Watkins.
After letting the crowd throw the balloons, Wilson set up the rocket launcher.
With the cold temperatures the night before, the cannon had cracked, and Wilson fixed it with duct tape. But he warned that, even with the repair, the bombs probably wouldn’t go as far as expected.
Wilson also warned the crowd that the rocket launcher might sound like an elephant screaming.
When it launched for the first time, it didn’t sound so much like an elephant screaming, but more like an elephant trumpeting in surprise, as if it had its toe stepped on … which prompted a surprised laugh from the crowd.
And did I mention there were snacks?
I kind of love Edison Pena, the Chilean miner who is scheduled to visit Memphis and Graceland in January.
Last night he was on Letterman, and it's a very entertaining interview ... even with his translator.