What's tactical urbanism? The latest buzzword in the urban planning movement is being used to describe low-cost, easy-to-implement action plans that temporarily transform an environment and possibly lead to long-term change.
Still sound like jargon? Examples of tactical urbanism in Memphis have included "New Face for Old Broad" (a two-day arts and retail pop-up fest along Broad Avenue in November 2010), National PARK(ing) Day (when artists turned downtown parking spots into mini-parks for a day last year), and food truck rodeos.
The Mayor's Innovation Delivery Team, which is tasked with boosting economic recovery in three Memphis neighborhoods, is partnering with the Street Plans Collaborative to host a free Tactical Urbanism Salon on September 22nd at 363 S. Main from 1 to 6 p.m. The meeting will allow residents to learn new ideas and approaches for instituting tactical urbanism projects in their neighborhoods.
“The Innovation Delivery Team is charged with finding new strategic ways to confront big urban problems, and that’s really what tactical urbanism is all about,” said Tommy Pacello, project manager for the team. “By our very nature, Memphians are creative, fearless, disruptive people who love to get our hands dirty. That’s why the tactical urbanism events that have taken place here so far have been successful."
Mike Carpenter, who served on the Shelby County Commission until he resigned last fall, has been tapped to lead the city's Office of Intergovernmental Relations. In a related role, he's also been named as project manager for the Harahan Bridge greenline project.
As the Harahan Bridge lead, Carpenter is charged with overseeing the TIGER IV federal grant that funds construction of much of the project's bicycle and pedestrian path across the old Harahan Bridge. Carpenter is contracting with the Downtown Memphis Commission for that role. Since the project links two cities — Memphis and West Memphis — Carpenter is contracting with the city for intergovernmental relations services as well. He is not a city employee but rather a city contractor, so Carpenter is not eligible for city insurance or retirement benefits.
Carpenter resigned from his five-year-long stint on the county commission last fall to take a job in Nashville as state director of the education reform advocacy organization StudentsFirst.
"I am grateful to have Mike Carpenter returning to Memphis to be our liaison to the local, state, and federal governments. He is knowledgeable about the unique challenges faced by cities and understands how essential it is to have the support of our government partners to grow our city and improve the quality of life of our citizens," said Mayor A C Wharton. "Having been a local elected official, lobbyist, and administrator, Mike has an uncommon skill set suited to effectively serve Memphis."
In an effort to attract more airline competition and drive down prices for consumers, the Delta Does Memphis Facebook group has launched ComeFlyMemphis.com, a website that allows consumers to send an email form letter to airlines that do not currently offer service in Memphis. (Delta Does Memphis was founded by Memphian Tom Jones, who was the subject of a recent Flyer cover story by John Branston.)
The Come Fly Memphis website's intro makes the argument that Memphis International Airport's $28.6 billion dollar business is one of the largest economic drivers in the state. But with Delta Airlines cutting flights and other airlines only launching a limited number of new flights, Memphis airport users "must fight for our share in the most competitive airport market America has ever seen," according to the site.
The bottom of the page features an email form letter asking other airlines to take a chance on Memphis. Once the site user enters some basic information, the email is distributed to CEOs from US Airways, United, JetBlue, Southwest, Frontier, Spirit, and Allegiant.
"From the beginning of Delta Does Memphis, we thought that the goal was to elevate public awareness about the negative consequences - both economic and personal - of having a fortress hub and the damage done by high airfares, then to get this issue to the front burner of our local civic priorities,and then to conceive of a way for people to take action," said Jones.
The website is a joint effort between the city and many local corporations, including FedEx, Leadership Memphis, Leadership Academy, Monogram Foods, Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens and Cannada PLLC, Graceland, the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, Emerge Memphis, Commercial Advisors, Howell Marketing Strategies, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, and the Memphis Flyer's parent company, Contemporary Media.
Members of a new homeless advocacy organization held cardboard signs spray-painted with "Say No to Sexual Harassment" and "What Is Done in the Dark Will Be Brought To the Light" in front of the Beers Van Gogh Peer Center of Excellence at 669 Madison Avenue on Thursday afternoon. One woman canvassed the sidewalk, holding a sign and screaming, "You shouldn't have to have sex to sleep in a bed!"
The members of H.O.P.E. (Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality) were protesting alleged sexual harassment against female clients and female staff members at the Peer Center, a Tennessee Mental Health Consumers' Association organization that provides housing to homeless people with mental disabilities.
A H.O.P.E. member has alleged that one employee of the Peer Center has offered her $20 to show him her breasts, and she alleged the man also talked to her and others about the size of his penis. He also reportedly asked a woman if she wanted to be involved in a three-way with he and his girlfriend.
A few of H.O.P.E.'s members, including some who still reside at the Peer Center, have filed formal complaints of sexual harassment with the Tennessee Mental Health Consumers' Association. According to the press release issued by H.O.P.E., the employee in question was suspended during an investigation of a complaint but later returned to his duties with the stipulation that he receive sensitivity training. He is allegedly under orders not to speak to the victim accept in case of an emergency. H.O.P.E. is consulting with legal counsel to further pursue the matter.
A man who answered the phone at the Peer Center on Thursday afternoon said the center did not wish to make a statement.
On Tuesday, July 17th, the Memphis City Council voted unanimously in favor of amending the city’s Unified Development Code (UDC). The new amendments will bring forth various changes to the code’s stance on development and zoning in the city. But the changes must be approved by the Shelby County Commission before the revised development code can take effect.
One such change affects aspiring tattoo shop owners, palm readers, psychics, fortune tellers, and massage parlors who desire to open businesses in the Commercial Mixed Use (CMU-1) zoning areas. While those businesses are currently forbidden from opening in CMU-1 zoning areas, the amended code will allow them to apply for a conditional use permit to do so.
Tattoo artist Babak Tabatabai is breathing a large sigh of relief after the council's decision. In November, Tabatabai signed a lease to open a tattoo shop and art gallery on Broad Avenue. After investing nearly $30,000 in the building and its remodeling, he received a rude awakening from the Historic Broad Business Association that the district was not zoned to allow tattoo shops.
He applied for a zoning variance to open the shop, but it was denied during a public hearing held at City Hall in March. Since then, his business has been at a standstill, but the new UDC amendments passed Tuesday could help change that.
“It’s hard to describe my reaction when I heard the results,” Tabatabai said, who attended the council meeting. “I wasn’t expecting it to go through. I was mostly relieved that I didn’t have to move all my stuff somewhere else. No matter what would have happened at this location, I think [the $30,000] would have never been lost anyway. They say it’s no lesson lost. It would have been a really expensive lesson, but it still would have been one that I could have learned something from. Now it has become even better.”
The next step is a second reading and public hearing on the changes at the Shelby County Commission on July 30th. The commission's third reading is scheduled for August 13th.
If everything goes well, Tabatabai plans to apply for the Conditional Use Permit in August. He hopes to have his shop open by September. Named Ronin Design & Manufacturing, it will be a tattoo shop, art gallery, and design firm.
“Everybody on the street has a different opinion about tattoo shops, but the official position from the Broad Avenue Business Association is that we support what the process says,” said Pat Brown, vice president of the Historic Broad Business Association in regard to the recent UDC changes. “We never stated that we were against tattoos. That was never the case. Now that the entire UDC has been changed, we’ll support whatever that process is.”
Chooch Pickard, executive director for the Memphis Regional Design Center, was a part of the UDC stakeholders. The group worked with Josh Whitehead, planning director for the Memphis & Shelby County Office of Planning and Development, to come up with compromises on the amendments.
Pickard said he’s “90 percent happy with how things turned out,” regarding the code's amendments.
“We weren’t wholesale against [the amendments] by any means,” Pickard said. “We actually were in favor of the majority of them, but we had a number of items that we took issue with. I think the Conditional Use Permit is a better option than just allowing tattoo shops outright, because that gives the neighborhood an opportunity to give their voice and perhaps put some limitations on hours of operation and things like that."
At a meeting on Tuesday morning, the Memphis City Council's economic development, tourism, and technology committee approved the allocation of $2 million in city funds to remediate blight at the historic Chisca Hotel.
The money will be managed by the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC), and it is only to be used for clearing up blight. None of the funds may be used to develop the 100-year-old hotel. Blight problems at the Chisca include standing water in the basement, lead paint, and asbestos.
Paul Morris, president of the DMC, told council members that it was important to use public money for the blight remediation because no developer would want to take on the building's renovation in its current state.
"This structure is causing embarrassment, harm, and damage to our image," Morris said.
For every $1 of city funds put toward clearing up the blight, $9 of private funds will be allocated to developing the property. The property is currently owned by the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), and Morris told the council that COGIC had tried and failed to redevelop the hotel on private funds alone.
If approved by the full council, the DMC will hold on to the $2 million until the developer uses their own money to purchase the property from COGIC and closes on the deal. The developer will be responsible for executing construction contracts. If the development is successful and a profit is made, the developer will be required to return the $2 million to the city.
"This is not a real estate investment for the city. It's a neighborhood revitalization and blight remediation project," Morris said.
The same council committee also approved the use of Center City Revenue Finance Corporation funds for redevelopment of the Chisca parking garage. Those funds are not part of the city's budget, but rather the revenue stream is funded by fees from downtown properties. The funds are only to be used on downtown parking structures, but the city council and the Shelby County Commission must approve their use. The garage would be open to the public, though it would primarily be aimed at residents of downtown apartments.
The full council will vote on both the $2 million allocation to Chisca blight remediation and the funding for the parking garage on Tuesday, August 7th.
Citizens of a recently annexed portion of South Cordova have a new expense due in about two months — their city taxes.
Many citizens expressed concerns at a public meeting Wednesday night about having to quickly come up with the new tax money, so the city of Memphis is now looking at state legislation that could allow for a grace period for those residents.
“I was particularly troubled by the plight of our newest citizens and the hardship created by tax bills they were not expecting,” said Mayor A C Wharton in a press release issued today. “We know we must try to find a way to give them some relief.”
The State Board of Equalization said the city could pursue state litigation that would allow for a grace period for property owners in a newly annexed area. If cannot, however, allow for different delinquency dates for different areas.
Citizens who spot potholes and broken street signs can now report those problems without ever dialing City Hall? Well, that is so long as those citizens have iPhones.
Smart Gov, a free app provided by the city, has a "point, click, and fix" option that allows iPhone users to take photos of potholes and the like and then send them directly to the Public Works department. The technology uses GPS coordinates to map the pictures so city employees can easily find what needs to be repaired.
"Now we don't have to ask how big it is and all that. We'll have it all right here," said Mayor A C Wharton.
Additionally, the app sends push notifications for police and fire alerts, such as Amber Alerts or Hazmat spills. It also sends notices for holiday sanitation schedules and general city announcements, such as advice on staying cool in extreme heat. Mayor A C Wharton's Vimeo channel is also linked through the app so citizens can watch video messages from the mayor.
The app is not only free for users to download, it was also free to the city. Ashley Mooney of local Geospace LLC, the app's creator, offered to create and run the app for free after he was stuck in traffic on Highway 51 during the 2011 flood. He said, at the time, that he wished there was some way to access city information, such as announcements about street closures, in app form. A few months later, Wharton was a guest on the Drake & Zeke radio show on 98.1 The Max, and Mooney called in with an offer to create the app. The city followed up with Mooney and the app was born.
"It's free to the city. I just wanted to make a difference," said Mooney.
Although it's only currently available for iPhones, Mooney said an Android and Windows version is coming soon. The app is available for download on iTunes.
The organization has been awarded a $395,000 Title X grant. Bypassing the state, Planned Parenthood of Greater Memphis (PPGMR) applied for Title X funding directly from the federal government, and received a little more than half of the $748,000 they applied for.
Although abortion has long been the sticking point in debates over funding for Planned Parenthood, according to federal law, no Title X funds can be used for abortion services.
This counts as a victory for one of Memphis' leading family planning providers, after a drawn-out battle over Title X funding last year. In April of 2011, an amendment to the state law required that Title X funding be apportioned directly to county health departments across the state, instead of subcontracted to organizations like Planned Parenthood. When an overburdened and ill-prepared Shelby County Health Department opted to subcontract the family planning services out to a local health organization, it issued a request for proposals, effectively pitting Planned Parenthood, the longtime recipient of Title X funding, against Christ Community Health Services, the inevitable recipient of the funding.
The move to bypass the state government is not wholly unusual, says Barry Chase, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Memphis. Other family planning organizations across the country have received Title X funding directly from the federal government in much the same way PPGMR has.
"Since the county decided not to fund us," says Chase, "we felt there were women in Shelby County who weren't receiving care."
Congressman Steve Cohen's office issued a press release with the following statement from Cohen:
“Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region has been helping Memphis and Shelby County residents get the health care they need to lead happier, healthier lives for years,” said Congressman Cohen. “These new federal funds will help ensure the Title X Family Planning Program reaches those who need help the most in underserved communities.”
But the Tennessee Right to Life group and Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey were not so enthusiastic. Ramsey issued the following statement:
"By funneling federal tax dollars to abortion providers in Tennessee, Barack Obama has proven once again why he needs to be defeated for a second term. Tennessee has taken a stand against Planned Parenthood's pro-abortion shell game and defunded these organizations for a reason. This money is a clear attempt to subvert the actions of state government and prop up a culture of death on the decline."
We'll have more on the story as it develops in next week's Fly By section.
Ever wondered how to bring an issue before the Shelby County Commission? Or what the county has planned in case of an earthquake? Or what public services are offered by the county health department?
All of those items and more will be on the curriculum for the Shelby County Citizens' University, an 11-week course offering a look into the role of each branch of county government. The class begins on August 16th and runs through October 25th. The Shelby County Mayor's Office is currently accepting applications for the course. Students must be at least 18 years old and live or work in Shelby County.
“We want to give citizens the opportunity to have a behind-the-scenes look at Shelby County government and how their tax dollars are spent,” said Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell.
Shelby County government presentations include:
Shelby County Mayor’s Office
Chief Administrative Office
Shelby County Commission
Administration and Finance
Shelby County Corrections Center
Planning and Development
Office of Preparedness
Shelby County Election Commission
Other elected offices
To submit an application, go here.
The city's low-cost spay and neuter clinic will soon be moving from its cramped space at 854 Goodman to a larger facility in Hickory Hill, thanks to a building donation from First Tennessee.
The new location at 5650 Mt. Moriah is twice as large as the current Mid-South Spay & Neuter Services facility, the waiting room for which is often standing-room-only on a typical day. Since the new space was a former veterinary clinic, future renovations are expected to be feasible and cost-effective. The larger size will allow the clinic to increase the number of patients it's able to treat.
First Tennessee gave the building to Mid-South Spay & Neuter Services as part of their community investment efforts, through which it donates foreclosed properties to nonprofit groups. Mid-South Spay & Neuter Services will start a public fund-raising campaign to fund renovations to the new space.