Cities

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Wish This Was Here

Posted By on Thu, Dec 2, 2010 at 12:17 PM

I love this project.

Artist and urban planner Candy Chang had stickers printed up that say "I wish this was __________." Then she distributed for free in cafes, bookstores, bars, and beauty shops:

The stickers are custom vinyl and can be easily removed without damaging property. It’s a fun, low-barrier tool for citizens to provide civic input on-site, and the responses reflect the hopes, dreams, and colorful imaginations of different neighborhoods.

Chang says she likes to make cities more comfortable for people, which I think is a pretty great goal. And the results are exactly what you'd expect: thoughtful, inspiring, funny.

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This kind of reminds me of what happened on Broad Avenue a few weeks ago, but I think the folks on Broad took it a little further and actually created those things, albeit temporarily. Either way, very cool.

To learn more — Chang has apparently had a lot of interest from people in other cities — visit www.iwishthiswas.com

Incidentally, I won't be blogging or writing for the Flyer for much longer, but I do plan to keep blogging. It might not be exactly the same form and it won't be in the same place — it will be here, instead — but with the same name and subject matter.

Feel free to stop by.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Memphis and Mid-Sized Cities

Posted By on Wed, Nov 10, 2010 at 8:30 AM

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.

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The University of Memphis has recently tapped Westerndorff to teach at its graduate school of city and regional planning and to head the newly established Mid-Sized Cities Policy Research Institute.

“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.”

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dangerous Data

Posted By on Fri, Oct 15, 2010 at 5:47 PM

A certain magazine/website with an affinity for rankings has once again chosen Memphis for an unfortunate distinction, this time "most dangerous":

Memphis, Tenn., where gang crime has ramped up in recent years, takes the dubious honor of first place.

But to local law enforcement, the list itself seems, well, suspect.

"We're trying to figure out how they arrived at the conclusion that gang crime has ramped up," says MPD deputy chief Jim Harvey. "We don't know where they're getting that, because we don't know that ourselves."

In fact, MPD's data shows crime down more than 12 percent from this time last year and down about 29 percent since 2006.

Part 1 crimes include aggravated assaults, homicides, auto thefts, residential and non-residential burglaries, and larsony.
  • Part 1 crimes include aggravated assaults, homicides, auto thefts, residential and non-residential burglaries, and larsony.

"I don't understand how Memphis could be number one with the decreases in crime we've had," Harvey says.

Nationally, crime has dropped about five percent, and Harvey attributes Memphis' stats to the MPD's Blue Crush initiative.

Continue reading »

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Oklahoma Revival

Posted By on Wed, Oct 13, 2010 at 8:45 AM

With all the talk of talent retention and attraction, I've recently been thinking that the city should ask some of its former residents to move back to town. Especially those with family still in the area.

I've talked to people educated here who say they plan to come back someday, just not for 20 or 30 years. But what if we could speed up their timetable somehow?

A story in yesterday's USAToday about Californians migrating to Oklahoma City has me thinking it's not impossible:


[Hollywood producer Neal] Nordlinger is running a software firm here and preaching the virtues of the heartland — low costs, unclogged streets, friendly people. "It's a dream here," he says. "The selling price of a house here would not be the down payment on a house in L.A. ... People in L.A. do something for you because there's something in it for them. Here, they genuinely want to help you succeed."

Memphis has a low cost of living, barely any traffic (as long as you shy away from Germantown Parkway), and I'd say the people here are pretty awesome. (Actually, if you read the story, a lot of it could be about Memphis.)

USAToday says that several factors have worked in Oklahoma's favor: It had made deliberate policy decisions to lure employers to Oklahoma or expand in the state, as long as they offer decent jobs with benefits. They've launched a state marketing campaign to bring skilled Oklahomans back from bigger cities. It also didn't have much of bust during the recent economic downtown, b/c it hadn't had much of a bust. They've launched a revitalization campaign in downtown Oklahoma City. And they're using their advantage in aerospace and defense technology to grow the field.

I think this is the thing I find most interesting, however, and comparable to our own city:


Newcomers say ambitious people can make a bigger impact faster in Oklahoma than they could in bigger, busier places. JD Merryweather's photography studio struggled in Santa Fe but took off in Oklahoma City. ...
Christy Counts returned to Oklahoma City from California six years ago, determined to start a Humane Society branch and head back to the West Coast. She's still here. "You can spend 15 years (elsewhere) trying to make a name for yourself," she says, "or you can spend two years (in Oklahoma City), work your a— off and make a difference."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Not Just Your Average Pedestrian Report

Posted By on Mon, Aug 16, 2010 at 12:56 PM

The city of New York released a traffic study today on pedestrian safety, showing exactly when, where, and why pedestrian accidents are likely to occur in the city.

From today's NYTimes:


This is the Rosetta Stone for safety on the streets of New York,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner.

The findings could also become a tool for the Bloomberg administration to extend its re-engineering of the city’s street grid, which it says saves lives. Those changes, which have angered many drivers, include barring vehicles from major avenues and replacing hundreds of parking spaces with bicycle lanes and walkways.

Among the findings, garnered from data of more than 7,000 crashes between 2002 and 2006 that resulted in the death or serious injury of pedestrians, was that inattention was the cause of most of the accidents. That and that in 80 percent of the cases involving death or serious injury, the driver was male.

The study also examined what times of day, which streets, and what months were more dangerous for pedestrians. The city is planning to make a series of changes based on the report.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

City Confidence

Posted By on Thu, Jul 22, 2010 at 3:37 PM

It was storytime at the Center City Commission's annual luncheon, today at the Peabody Hotel.

Former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin told attendees about "The Little Engine That Could," relating it to how "small and insignificant" Atlanta started.

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  • Shirley Franklin
"Memphis and Atlanta can because they think they can," she said. "We just have to believe in ourselves."

Franklin said the first step was knowing who you are as a city, knowing your history, and knowing what works for you and what doesn't.

"In order to be successful, you have to brand yourself. You have to decide who you want to be," she said.

She also urged city leaders to think in the long-term, because the successes of today are built on the decisions made several generations ago.

"How will cities be successful, not in the next two or three years, but the next 50 or 100 years?"

For me, the lesson that Memphis can learn from Atlanta is about self-confidence, maybe even about moxie, chutzpah, cojones.

I mean, they won the 1996 Olympics — the ones that Athens really wanted because it was the modern games' 100th anniversary — at a time when they were considered a long-shot. But they tried for it anyway.

Take Franklin herself. Before she became mayor, Franklin had been Atlanta's CAO and City Manager, but she had never run for office. She was also a woman — and no woman had ever been mayor of Atlanta before. She was the first black woman to become mayor of a major Southern city.

It's hard to say "have confidence" to a city that doesn't. And as someone in the media, I'm often accused of hurting Memphis' self-image.

But I've seen some things recently that suggest the city is slowly moving in the right direction. Maybe we just have to remember to think we can.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Logo-Rama

Posted By on Wed, Jun 23, 2010 at 11:11 AM

If you had to draw a logo from Memphis — and not the oak leaf/riverboat thing gracing City Hall right now — what would it look like?

CitID is amassing a logo or visual interpretation of cities around the world:

"Ever heard of Tegucicalpa? How about Sandnes or Brunswick? Probably not. Right now they're just hard-to-pronounce foreign words that you will not remember. The fact is, they are all cities somewhere on our planet. Places you're most likely never to visit. Through this project you will become aware of them, and maybe even remember their names; Here you get to meet them personally and visually, in an inspiring artistic context."

I saw this on Eric Mathews' Twitter the other day, but I had so much fun looking through the gallery, I thought I'd share. Plus, Memphis is not yet represented, and if CitID is going to meet its goal of having all continents, countries, capitals, and cities represented, someone around here is going to have to get on the stick.

(I'd do it myself, but well, I can't draw. My artistic ability is limited to constructing phrases and pulling faces.)

Here are some of the ones already submitted for other cities, just for inspiration:

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CitID says it will take multiple entries from cities. Selected work will be included in a forthcoming book.

Friday, June 18, 2010

In the Zone?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 18, 2010 at 9:34 AM

About 50 people turned up for last night's public meeting at Peabody Elementary on the proposed Midtown zoning overlay.

After the proposed Overton Square grocery store development fell through earlier this year, the Memphis Regional Design Center got together with the Midtown Development Corporation, the Cooper-Young Development Corporation, and the Cooper-Young Business Association to draft a plan that would dictate development standards for renovations and new construction.

"The community says, 'this is what we want our neighborhood to look like,'" said Memphis city councilman Shea Flinn, who was instrumental in beginning the overlay process. "We're not going to prostitute ourselves for any developer who comes along."

In the overlay area, which is in a sort of upside down L/arrow shape because of the historic neighborhoods already designated in Midtown, current commercial zoning would change to mixed-use commercial and there would be a review process for all commercial development.

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"Outside of downtown, it's illegal right now to have buildings with commercial on the ground floor and residential above," said Charles "Chooch" Pickard, executive director of the regional design center.

Continue reading »

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Kiplinger's Best Cities

Posted By on Thu, Jun 3, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Editors of Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine just published their Best Cities For the Next Decade, judging Austin; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; Boulder; Salt Lake City; Rochester, Minnesota; Des Moines, Burlington, Vermont; West Hartford, Connecticut; and Topeka, Kansas as places that are prosperous, innovative, and will generate plenty of jobs in the next 10 years.

"Some U.S. cities," Kiplinger's says, "though slowed by the Great Recession, still thrive by lifting good old American innovation to new levels. And that will help put more Americans back to work."

In essence, new ideas equal new jobs. The case studies bear this out. Austin, the number one city on the list, is a breeding ground for start-ups. Burlington, 30 years ahead of the rest of the country with the local food movement, has seen economic growth driven by environmentalism. Boulder has more than 6,600 small business and corporations that do everything from instrumentation for the Hubble Telescope to convert old cars into hybrids.

Is there a lesson Memphis can take from this? Maybe one or two.


After researching and visiting our 2010 Best Cities, it became clear that the innovation factor has three elements. Mark Emmert, president of the University of Washington in Seattle, put his finger on two of them: smart people and great ideas. But we'd argue that it's the third element — collaboration — that really supercharges a city's economic engine. When governments, universities and business communities work together, the economic vitality is impressive.

(I would argue this is a good enough reason as any to build a thriving downtown, one that includes a lot of business, both big and small. You can't under-estimate the water cooler effect. Oh, added bonus link: Wired's story on how Pixar keeps churning out blockbusters: "Walking to the bathroom or getting a cup of coffee is often the most productive part of my day," says producer Darla Anderson. "You bump into somebody by accident and then have a conversation that leads to a fix.")

Kiplinger's also points out that economic vitality and livability go hand in hand. Cool music, art, culture, and recreational facilities attract "like-minded professionals who go on to cultivate a region's business scene."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fast Tracked

Posted By on Wed, Jun 2, 2010 at 4:09 PM

When Leadership Memphis began its first season of FastTrack, a two-month program aimed at emerging leaders in 2008 — the same year the organization turned 30 — I wrote about it.

"It is targeted to a younger and more up-and-coming leadership group," Leadership Memphis president David Williams said of FastTrack. "The executive program is targeted at proven leaders, those people already in senior leadership positions."

"For the last four years, with our executive program, we've been talking about the importance of recruiting and retaining talent in Memphis," Williams says. "We said let's see what we can do, and voila."

Earlier this year — full disclosure — I went through the program myself.

Now, I don't see how Leadership Memphis could find a better group of talented, wonderful, socially conscious, community-oriented, and fun individuals than they had in the FastTrack program this past spring, but they seem bound and determined to do so.

From now until June 30th, Leadership Memphis is taking nominations for the FastTrack 2010 Fall program, which begins in August and ends in November.

During the program, participants will learn about leadership skills and about Memphis. There are even field trips! (Just like in grade school, but without the boxed lunch or the bus driver.)

For more information about the program, visit www.leadershipmemphis.org or call Leadership Memphis at 901.278.0016. To nominate someone (including yourself), send name and contact information to: admissions@leadershipmemphis.org.

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.'

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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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Parks on Top, Highways Below

Posted By on Thu, May 6, 2010 at 8:30 AM

USAToday had a trend story yesterday about cities that have created parks and pedestrian-friendly spaces on top of highways.

In cites such as St. Louis, Los Angeles, and my very own Big D, these green freeways are helping downtown revitalization efforts.


Transportation departments are not opposed as long as the plans don't reduce highway capacity. In most cases, traffic is rerouted.

"It's the coming together of people wanting green space and realizing that highways are a negative to the city," says Peter Harnik, director of the Trust for Public Land's Center for City Park Excellence. "Covering them with green space gives you a wonderful place to live and work."

The story also adds that developers and environmentalists are pushing for so-called decking for different reasons: developers see a way to add more prime real estate to the downtown market while environmentalists hope to offset emissions and reduce reliance on cars.

Also, my favorite part, one of the sources quoted compares highways to a medieval wall.

For more, and to see the specifics of several similar projects around the country, click here.

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