Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Good News for Davis-Kidd Booksellers

Posted By on Wed, Apr 27, 2011 at 12:38 PM

Facing liquidation in bankruptcy court, Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Memphis is being purchased by former owner Neil Van Uum.

A statement from Van Uum released Wednesday said the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Kentucky approved the purchase of the store's assets.

"I want to first apologize for all that my staff here at the store has had to endure," said Van Uum in the prepared statement. "This has been a hugely trying six months and looked like it was very much headed to a tragic conclusion. Thankfully, with the support of Tom Prewitt, the owner of Laurelwood Shopping Center, we were able to save the store.

"I am excited about the future direction of our store. Eddie Burton and his team are ready to step up and take the store forward. We are fortunate to come through well positioned financially and look forward to getting our inventory back in shape. In addition, we have plans coming together for a complete remodel of the store in the fall."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

RDC Gives Flood Advisory

Posted By on Tue, Apr 26, 2011 at 6:12 PM

From the Riverfront Development Corporation on Tuesday, April 26th:

(All of the following information is verbatim from the RDC press release.)

Reaching flood stage may not be hard to imagine if you take a minute to drive by or walk along the river’s edge — especially in Greenbelt Park, the lowest lying part of the downtown riverfront. And even though the river looks extraordinarily high, today the water level is only at +33.7 feet on the Memphis gauge. That’s 11 feet lower than where it is predicted to be on May 10th. An 11 foot rise in the mighty Mississippi river is a lot of water under those bridges.

The Mississippi River is a powerful and unwieldy water body and our city sits at its widest point where its annual 50 foot fluctuation is most evident. That’s the allure of the river and the heritage of Memphis. The US Army Corps of Engineers has tried to tame this magnificent waterway and many a paddler has tried to conquer it. But for the regular citizen — or the visitor to the Memphis in May International Festival — what do these numbers really mean?

Safety is Priority One for Memphis in May

The RDC has been working with Memphis in May officials to address the possible flooding issues in Tom Lee Park — especially as they relate to the power transformers that the festival uses. To assist Memphis in May, the RDC is leaving the electrical transformers in place as long as possible to be used for the Beale Street Music Festival this weekend. On Monday, due to the strong threat of flooding, the transformers will be removed. As a result, the power for the Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Festival will have to be provided by generators. Memphis in May is aware of and amenable to this solution.

At +45 on the Memphis gauge, the Mississippi River will be lapping at the bank of Tom Lee Park. It will not, however, flood the park. At +46 on the gauge, the MIM World Championship BBQ Festival will be affected. At an elevation of +48, the river would flood about half of Tom Lee Park.

Comparatively, Greenbelt Park floods about twice each year. Once the water recedes, the RDC staff enters the park and removes the debris. This is our plan for Tom Lee Park as well. Of course, we will coordinate our effort with Memphis in May to ensure the least impact possible.

Additional Riverfront Warnings and Preparations

Greenbelt Park will be completely under water at +45, except for the walkway. The north parking lot will be flooded and the ramp will be closed there as well as at the Coast Guard. The southern parking lot will flood somewhere between +45 and +48.

On Tuesday morning, City crews were already putting the stop logs in place in the flood wall behind the Pyramid Arena.

Soon, Mud Island River Park will look even more like an island; but it will not flood. However, both ramps will be submerged. There may be limited admittance to the Mud Island Marina; although, the marina itself will continue to be physically accessible.

Neither Jefferson Davis Park nor the Tennessee Welcome Center should be impacted by the rising water levels; although, visitors will have a beautiful backdrop for their pictures and memorable views of our most incredible natural resource.

The Historic Cobblestone Landing will be completely underwater in the coming days, with the river creeping up the retaining wall on the southern end. The Memphis Riverboat Company’s vessels will be so close to the Cobblestone Walkway, you can reach out and touch them. In fact, their gangplank will rest on the Monroe Avenue ramp, just below Riverside Drive.

The big question is: Will the Mississippi River flood Riverside Drive? The answer is that it would take a river elevation of about +50 on the gauge for this to happen. And while we would never say never; it would certainly be a significant unforeseen event for our community.

So come on downtown and see history in the making. This just may be an experience you’ll tell your grandchildren about.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Canoe and Kayak Race Canceled

Posted By on Mon, Apr 25, 2011 at 12:09 PM

Boat ramp at low water
  • Boat ramp at low water
The 30th annual Outdoors Inc. Canoe and Kayak Race scheduled for May 7th has been canceled.

Race founder Joe Royer made the announcement Monday. He said all contestants will get a refund of their entry fees. Royer said forecasts call for the river to be eight feet above flood stage on May 7th and ten feet above flood stage a day after that. That would be 44 feet on the Memphis gage, the highest level since the record 48.7 feet in 1937.

"At this level, the parking area at the start of the race will be underwater," the announcement says, adding:

"We strongly considered rescheduling the event in June. After careful consideration, we realize that since the boat ramp at the north end of Mud Island is completely washed out and closed by the city with permanent barriers, the low-water conditions typical of June-July present a safety hazard for race participants. It is not part of the Memphis riverfront plan to rebuild this boat ramp."

"We at Outdoors Inc. sadly regret this announcement of the permanent cancellation of the OICK Race,"

The race has given thousands of Memphians and visitors as well as experienced competitive paddlers a chance to canoe on the Mississippi River under Coast Guard supervision. The course runs from the boat ramp on the north end of Mud Island to the south tip of Mud Island River Park and into the downtown harbor. Royer said the river isn't safe for novices at the predicted flood stage. Last year's race was canceled at the last minute due to tornado warnings.

There are three boat ramps on Mud Island. One is inside the park on the harbor. Another one is on the north end of the island and goes straight into the Mississippi River. It is in good shape and used mainly by fishermen. The "washed out" ramp (pictured) leads into the mouth of the Wolf River. Canoe race participants used the north boat ramp and parking area as a staging area, waiting in the slackwater of the Wolf River for the start of the race. On Monday, half of Greenbelt Park on Mud Island was underwater and the river was a few feet below the parking area.

In an interview, Royer said he would reconsider continuing the race next year if the boat ramp is rebuilt. But he said the Riverfront Development Corporation would have to make that decision. He wants the race to be safe for recreational paddlers as well as hardcores.

"Flooded trees become strainers," he said. "Along the bank is the most dangerous place to paddle."

Royer said the paddling scene locally has shifted to Shelby Farms and Patriot Lake, which has better facilities.

"It is just not a downtown thing," he said.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Davis-Kidd: When Bad Things Happen to Good Stores

Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2011 at 10:30 AM

When you hear that a business might be liquidated, the reaction is often, "well, no wonder."

But Davis-Kidd is the Memphis bookstore in Laurelwood Shopping Center for 21 years that seemingly does everything right, defying the digital age with customer service from a helfpul staff in their aprons, the Bronte bistro, and browsing spaces tucked into 20,000 feet of space. And local authors have no better friend than Davis-Kidd (and Burke's), host of numerous book signings and the long-time sponsor of Memphis magazine's annual fiction contest.

So it's depressing to hear that Davis-Kidd's corporate parent, the Joseph Beth Company, is in bankruptcy and that the Memphis Davis-Kidd store might be liquidated.

"We have until next week when it changes hands," said General Manager Eddie Burton on Friday. "It's kind of up to Laurelwood now. That's where we're putting our hope."

On a visit this week, the store looked anything but terminal. There were lines at the checkout counter, moms and dads with their kids playing with toys and stuffed animals in the pleasantly cluttered Kids Corner, a short wait for a table in Bronte's, racks of Vera Bradley handbags and Spring hats and cards, and lots of people quietly browsing sections like Essential Nonfiction, The Economist Recommends, Heard on NPR, It's Not Rocket Surgery, Mark's Barks, and Our Favorite Bios. The location is prime. The parking is free. The hours span breakfast and dinner. You want community, this is it.

The problem for bookstores in general, of course, is technology and pricing pressure. Even Davis-Kidd's outdoor bargain tables, crammed with last year's top-selling hardcover books for $2.99 to $7.99, has trouble competing with new titles on Amazon for under $5, digital best-sellers for $9.99 on a Kindle e-reader, and self-published titles for 99 cents. Or, for that matter, lightly used books on sale up Poplar Avenue at the Main Library for $2.

"We've been successful," said Burton. "The problems lie above us."

Bad things happen to good people and good businesses. Several years ago I dropped my subscription to Sports Illustrated. There followed a stream of phone calls, special offers, discounts, entreaties, and surveys about what SI did wrong. SI did nothing wrong. It was me. I got old and disinterested in spectator sports.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Kicking Cans and Cliches at City Hall

Posted By on Wed, Apr 20, 2011 at 12:56 PM

"Kick the can" is the early leader for Cliche of the Year, edging out "tough choices" and running ahead of last year's winner, "the new normal."

When you hear those phrases you know it is budget-making time in Memphis, Nashville, and Washington. In Memphis, the process takes about a month and a half from starter's gun to finish line. It's still early, but not too early to handicap the field.

"Kick the can," (KTK) and its cousin "kick the can down the road," means that politicians make the same old arguments, cobble together a little of this and a little of that, and wind up putting off the "tough choices" until next year. Few will admit to being a can kicker. A can kicker is sort of a wimp. Kicking the can means refusing to make the tough choices (TC) or "bold strokes" (BS) that will make the future better for our children, who are "our most precious asset" (OMPA).

The opposite of KTK is "game changer." Here are some game changers and the TCs that go along with them. Think of this early stage of the budget process as the bidding round in bridge or poker, before the ins are in and the outs are out and the cards are played. I bid this, you bid that, I counter, you counter, and so on.

Raise property taxes, either permanently or "one time" via a "special assessment." The city of Memphis can raise a lot of money this way but would risk driving residents to less-taxing parts of Shelby County and the world. Councilman Shea Flinn and Mayor A C Wharton support a one-time assessment to pay off the city school system for an old debt. Flinn says it has little if any chance, even with the mayor's support.

A payroll tax is an old saw that someone brings up every year. It was proposed by former councilman Janet Hooks several years ago and taken seriously enough to get bashed by the chamber of commerce and business leaders and trounced in a referendum. Council member Wanda Halbert brought it up this week.

Close cousins of the payroll tax, sometimes called a privilege tax, are toll roads and bridges. The idea is to tax somebody else, particularly people who work in Memphis but live somewhere else. You can bet trucking and logistics firms would love this.

Efficiency studies are popular with non-can-kickers who want to be seen as more practical than payroll taxers or toll roaders. There is usually an efficiency study handy on the shelf somewhere. Councilman Bill Boyd mentioned the most current one this week. The problem, as Wharton noted, is that there is no slap-your-forehead, why-didn't-we-think-of-this-before idea in it. And Wharton, remember, has been a mayor for ten years.

The efficiency study's cousin is innovation. Innovation is golden. You can't be against innovation. You sound innovative just by saying the word. And it is a perfect opportunity to say "think outside the box," (TOTB), winner of the 1999 Cliche of the Year Award. It is also a copout (1969 winner) and a crock of crap (COC) unless the person saying it has an actual innovative idea that can get seven votes on the council.

The all-time efficiency study is the consolidation campaign. We have been there and done that.

Reducing executive salaries, either in the police department (council member Janice Fullilove) or across the board, is a politically safe option. But it is neither brave nor a game changer. Anyone who bothers to read publicly available tax forms and proxy statements knows that local nonprofits, hospitals, and corporations pay ten times higher executive salaries than the city or county or the school boards.

Privatizing government functions is a conservative favorite, right up with there with "deep cuts" in pension benefits and number of employees. The jail used to be a privatization target but not any more, for some reason. The latest small-bore targets are downtown street parking and delinquent tax collections. What is not said is that strictly enforcing parking fines and adding meters everywhere would probably piss people off and make them less likely to come downtown as opposed to the 'burbs, where parking is free. And both of these measures are borderline KTKs because they would give the city a one-time payment, ala a pawn shop transaction.

Privatizing the city sanitation department is flying just below the radar (1989 Winner) at the moment. Joe Brown detected it and called out Flinn yesterday, vowing to oppose it in the name of sanitation workers and women, whom he said would be disproportionately harmed. Sanitation workers calls up visions of Martin Luther King, I Am a Man signs, and 1968 and hectoring visits from Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Privatization is even less likely than a tax increase.

Almost as sacred as sanitation workers are firemen. Firemen and policemen have a habit of showing up in large numbers at council meetings when they smell a rat. Both divisions are off the chopping table at the moment even though they account for well over half of the operating budget.

This is why KTK is always the fallback option. And as Wharton said, it is neither popular nor painless to cut 125 jobs, $23 million here and $10 million there, and everyone's paid vacation days from 14 to 12. Plus, as an attorney he is constitutionally and philosophically opposed to defying three courts that have said the city must pay the school system. He has a possible deal with MCS to settle for $40 million because MCS doesn't want to disable the engine that makes it go.

A one-time property tax assessment of 39 cents on the tax rate would put the past debt behind us but not relieve Memphians of their double taxation for schools. That issue is pending in the federal court, and Memphis is likely to be on the hook for $80 million a year for another two years at least.

Wharton can kick the can as well as any politician, but he's not doing it this time. A one-time tax assessment and a menu of "shared sacrifice" like the one he proposed Tuesday are sensible and doable. We'll see what cards the city council has left to play, and who does what, who bluffs and folds, and who kicks the can in the next six weeks.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tax and End: Wharton For One-Time Assessment

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2011 at 7:53 PM


City Councilman Shea Flinn's proposal for a one-time 39-cent property tax assessment gained the support of Mayor A C Wharton Tuesday, and Wharton said that if the council goes along with it then a long-running dispute with Memphis City Schools could be settled.

The assessment on property owners in Memphis would raise about $40 million, which Wharton said MCS officials agreed to accept as full and final payment of a $57 million debt going back to 2008. The council will take up the proposal in two weeks. The city would still have to pay MCS $80 million or about 9 percent of the school system's operating budget every year until the city and county systems are merged.

The assessment would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $180. It is likely to provoke charges that it will become permanent, like the "temporary" county wheel tax.

Wharton made the announcement during his budget speech to the council. He said one reason he accepts it as the best of some bad options is that, as an attorney, he is uncomfortable defying the ruling by three courts that Memphis must pay up.

Although Flinn has publicly said his proposal has no chance, that now seems to be a misstatement. Iin a committee meeting, Council members Joe Brown, Wanda Halbert, and Janis Fullilove said they would oppose it. Council members Kemp Conrad, Harold Collins, and Reid Hedgepeth said major fixes are needed in the budget, not one-year measures. Collins described the approach as "shoestrings, paper clips. and bubblegum." Whether that means cuts, taxes, or some combination will be revealed in the coming weeks. The committee kept Flinn's proposal alive without recommending it.

Wharton and Flinn compare notes before the Council meeting. - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Wharton and Flinn compare notes before the Council meeting.

What gives the proposal a chance is the acceptance of the offer by the MCS officials, the promise that it will be a one-time assessment and not an annual tax increase, the support of the mayor, and the scarcity of other options.

Brown said he would oppose privatizing the sanitation department or additional layoffs beyond the 125 proposed by Wharton. Fullilove said she is against layoffs and holiday reductions for city employees and would like to hear discussion of a payroll tax on people who work in Memphis but live outside the city. Halbert also floated the idea of a payroll or privilege tax.

Wharton proposed that city employees not be paid for 12 of their 14 holidays, which amounts to a 4.6 percent pay cut. He also proposed $23 million in combined cuts from every division except police and fire.

"Nothing we do will generate universal praise or support," said Wharton.

The final 2012 budget must be ready by June 6th.

Memphians can look forward to some other fees in the new economy. Wharton said charging for car inspections is one possibility. And as a counter proposal to Wharton's suggestion that the city privatize downtown parking meters, the Center City Commission wants to "modernize" them rather than "monetize" them. "Diligent enforcement" of parking violations by an outside firm would put a little extra cash in city coffers, especially if ticket scofflaws were unable to renew their car registration, as some council members have suggested. And police, who are spared from the layoffs, can be counted on to diligently enforce speed limits and traffic violations.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Shea Flinn Will Propose City Tax Increase

Posted By on Mon, Apr 18, 2011 at 1:37 PM

Shea Flinn
  • Shea Flinn
Memphis City Councilman Shea Flinn says he'll propose a one-time 39-cent increase in the city property tax to raise $40 million to pay the past-due court-ordered schools payment.

Flinn is up for reelection this year, as are his colleagues on the council and Mayor A C Wharton. He said he is putting the proposal out there even though no one else is likely to support it before the election.

"People who think I wake up every morning worrying about reelection are wrong," said Flinn, half-joking that he would start a "Kamikaze Party" to propose unpopular budget options.

Memphis already has the highest combined city-county property tax rate in Tennessee. A 39-cent increase would amount to about 12 percent higher city taxes.

"Everybody knows taxes are going up and they're trying to get through this election year without doing it," he said.

The tax increase would be in addition to layoffs of some 200 city employees and other measures needed to balance the budget. Flinn said he talked to Wharton about his proposal and the mayor has "no philosophical differences with it as far as one approach."

The council meets Tuesday.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

John Ford Could Be Home This Year

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 11:49 AM

John Ford and Michael Scholl
  • John Ford and Michael Scholl
John Ford could be released to a halfway house as early as late 2011, said Michael Scholl, the Memphis attorney who represented him in Ford's bribery case in Operation Tennessee Waltz.

Ford got a 66-month sentence in that case, plus another 14 years for a later conviction in a separate federal case in Nashville. But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the Nashville conviction this week because the federal court did not have jurisdiction.

"They're basically saying 'that's it,'" said Scholl, who did not represent Ford in Nashville. Ford was represented by a federal public defender.

Scholl said he was "a little bit surprised" about the jurisdictional ruling. Such issues are usually raised and argued in pretrial motions or at trial.

The appeals court also overruled, with the consent of prosecutors, two other counts against Ford based on "honest services" statutes that the Supreme Court has ruled only apply in bribery and kickbacks cases. Ford was convicted of failing to disclose a financial arrangement with a company that did business with TennCare while he was a state senator.

"I was very excited," said Scholl. "I have not talked to John but I'm happy for him."

He expects Ford, 68, to be released to a halfway house in late 2011 or early 2012.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Appeals Court Overturns John Ford's Nashville Conviction

Posted By on Thu, Apr 14, 2011 at 11:45 AM

John Ford
  • John Ford
John Ford won't be serving 19 years in prison after all. His failure to disclose a consulting relationship wasn't a federal case and federal prosecutors in Nashville blew the call.

On Thursday, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the former state senator's 2008 conviction, for which he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Ford had already been convicted and sentenced to five and one-half years in prison in 2007 in Memphis on bribery charges in the Operation Tennessee Waltz sting.

The successful appeal means Ford, 68, could be a free man within two years. It also means that he was convicted for a relationship with a fake company, E-Cycle, but successfully appealed his conviction for his relationship with real companies United American Healthcare Corporation and Omnicare.

The appeals court said "the disclosures that Ford was supposed to make were owed to state entities — the Tennessee Senate and Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. Herein lies the distinction central to Ford's argument. While the facts that he failed to disclose concerned an entity inseperable from federal ties, the entitites to which he failed to disclose those facts were anything but federal. Ford's distinction has merit."

The appeals court did not address the basic question of whether Ford's consulting relationship with a company he could help as a senator committee chairman was right or wrong. It only focuses on disclosure.

"Although Omnicare had a contractual duty to not pay Tennessee officials and to prevent benefits from flowing to them, Ford was not bound by that duty. Therefore, Ford did not owe TennCare a contractual duty to report his financial interests with Omnicare. The only reporting duties owed by Ford in this case were owed to the senate and election registry."

In the Nashville trial, Ford was also convicted on so-called "honest services" counts of wire fraud. Prosecutors conceded that in light of a recent ruling those convictions should be vacated because "honest services" only applies to bribery and kickback schemes." Ford was convicted of failing to disclose interests.

Honest services means the public has a right to honest services of public officials. The term came up two years ago during the investigation of then-Memphis mayor Willie Herenton. That investigation was dropped.

Ford was arrested in Nashville in 2005 when Tennessee Waltz broke. He was the most well-known defendant in the investigation which was based on an FBI sham company called E-Cycle. After Ford was convicted in 2007, federal prosecutors in Nashville decided to go ahead with their case. They indicted Ford but not United Healthcare/Omnicare officials Ronald Dobbins and Osbie Howard. Federal prosecutors in Memphis did not comment on the Nashville case at the time.

John Ford is the third brother of the Ford family to score a win against the feds. Harold Ford was acquitted on federal corruption charges in 1993 and Edmund Ford Sr. was acquitted on bribery and extortion charges related to Operation Main Street Sweeper in 2008; after that prosecutors dropped an unrelated case against him.

Ford was paid $55,000 by an undercover FBI agent for helping the fake computer recycling company. As a consultant and state senator, he earned $470,000 a year in 2003 and 2004, according to records in the Nashville case.

On the theory that "consultant" was a legal shield, other Memphis state lawmakers including Roscoe Dixon listed that as their occupation. Dixon was also convicted in a Tennessee Waltz case in Memphis. With Ford's winning appeal, which leaves state lawmakers to police their own along with the assistance of the Registry of Election Finance (which can't send anyone to jail), legislator consultants could be back in business.

The Madison Avenue Bike Lanes

Posted By on Thu, Apr 14, 2011 at 10:49 AM

Say this for the proposed bike lanes on Madison Avenue: This is no MATA trolley.

The "road diet" outlined this week by bicycle rider/researcher/proponent/coordinator Kyle Wagenschutz is a modest proposal for a couple of miles of an east-west street in Midtown. It will cost thousands of dollars, not $60 million like MATA's east-west trolley line or $450 million like MATA's proposed light-rail from downtown to the airport. It paints bike lanes and reconfigures parking and car traffic on an existing street. Completion time is a few months, not two and a half years like the Madison trolley.

At best it will create more interest in restaurants and businesses along Madison from Overton Square to Cleveland and encourage new development and give people something to talk about. At worst it will, in the opinion of the owners of Huey's and Mercury Valet cleaners, hurt business and clog traffic.

"Businesses in other cities, and locally, have found that being located next to roadways with low traffic speeds and increased usage of bicycles has benefitted sales, revenues, and patronage," according to the report, which includes the names of proponents and opponents.

"Madison Avenue will link bicycle facilities planned for McLean Blvd, Cooper St., and Overton Park to others planned for Peabody Ave., and North Parkway."

Peabody, the preferred east-west route of some bicycle riders whether there are bike lanes or not, is still in the game.

"Creating a single east-west route for cyclists to use is unrealistic," the report says.

Bicycle lanes, the report says, will "encourage or enhance the economic viability of Madison Avenue."
They are preferable to "share the road" alternatives and are already having some impact on Broad Avenue east of East Parkway, a wide street that was largely abandoned after Sam Cooper Boulevard was extended to Overton Park.

And furthermore, "The contemporary economy thrives on land use patterns that combine city centers, corner stores and streetcar suburbs — a mix of uses that Madison Avenue currently has. Interaction of multiple modes of transportation, including pedestrian and bicycle activity, is key since the new economy thrives on accessibility, networking, and creativity."

And this, I say, is where the bike report runs off the rails, or outside the lanes, as it were.

For better or worse, the contemporary economy thrives on cars, Union Avenue, Poplar Avenue, and Germantown Parkway, as well as Kroger, Home Depot, Target, malls, and chain restaurants. Madison Avenue from downtown to just east of Cleveland is a mess in part because of the stupid, wasteful trolley. That section is dangerous to bicycles because of the tracks, the empty trolleys, and the cars.

The part of Madison from Overton Square to Cleveland is mostly wider and safer, but I don't think bike lanes will make much difference one way or the other. A dedicated path for bikes and pedestrians like the new Greenline is one thing. It is safe, scenic, and connects to Shelby Farms. With a little imagination, you can get to Overton Park and points west, south, and north.

The bike-friendly cities I have lived in and visited are bike friendly because they have (a) thousands of college students and (b) parking that is scarce, off-site, and expensive and (c) high density or (d) all of these things. A car can be an inconvenience just as a bicycle can be a convenience. So there are bike paths and bike lanes.

Memphis has, for the most part, wide streets, low density, and lots of free parking. It's a car town. As a practical matter, biking and walking are much praised but little practiced. We walk for exercise but we drive to the grocery store, the drug store, the movies, the next class, the zoo, and the bars and restaurants. Even Rhodes College and the University of Memphis are jammed with cars.

If bike lanes help Midtown businesses and promote new investment, it's fine with me, but I think the impact will be small. I don't see anyone riding a bike and carrying a sack of groceries, but I do see a lot of people, including myself and my friends who ride bikes for fun, driving a few blocks to get some place we could walk to in 15 minutes. As long as there is free parking, I don't expect that to change.

Here is a link to the report.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Cool, Green Playground at Shelby Farms

Posted By on Thu, Apr 7, 2011 at 4:52 PM

The newest addition to Shelby Farms, billed as a "world-class" playground, will open Friday.

Woodland Discovery Playground consists of five separate play areas or "nests" connected by a serpentine path under an arbor that will eventually be covered with native vines. Designed by landscape architect and urban designer James Corner and his firm james corner field operations, the playground features slides, swings, climbing ropes, and other equipment on a soft surface of recycled Nike sneakers. It is supposed to put more fun and some "risk" back into playgrounds while keeping them safe.

"Children like to find things," said Corner, who led a tour Thursday for architects and urban design professionals. The playground, which is free to users, is designed to encourage discovery and exploration of the five nests, the quarter-mile path, and the surrounding environment.

Corner's firm is also working on the Seattle waterfront and New York's High Line Park and Fresh Kills Park. He was joined at Thursday's program by John Hopkins, project director of parklands for the London 2012 Olympic Park, which is being called the first "sustainable" Olympics because 75 percent of the venues and infrastructure is permanent.

Under the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, the 4,500-acre park is being overhauled with bike trails, gardens, "one million trees" (not all at once, planners noted), educational exhibits, an expanded Patriot Lake, the new bridge over the Wolf River, pavilions, and connections to other bike trails. The goal, planners said, is to "shift the center of gravity" of Greater Memphis to the park, which is close to the geographic center of Shelby County and five times the size of Central Park in New York City.

The playground looks pretty cool, although the grown-ups in Thursday's groups didn't field test much of it. Thanks to Laura Adams, head of the conservancy, it was my second tour this week. I am many years removed from the days when I sought out playgrounds for my children, but I give this one high marks for imagination, tall slides, recycled materials, soft surfaces, and generally riskier stuff as advertised.

I found a couple of nits to pick, probably just temporarily, in a few basics. There are only two urinals plus two stalls in the (male) restroom. And just one diaper-changing table. If the playground is as popular as planners hope it will be, this could be a problem. There are three drinking fountains. Let's hope they keep them working. And part of the arbor trail is in the shade of the woods, but part of it, and a few of the nests, are in full sun for the time being. Anyone who has sat on a slide with bare legs on a sunny afternoon in July in Memphis will think twice before doing it again.

The park is certainly accessible by bicycle but occasional riders and young children will probably bring their bikes. Or stay in their cars. There is no public transit to the park or within the park. Anyone home at MATA? A shuttle or three, preferably air-conditioned, would seem to be an immediate need in a park the size of a small town. Planners said they are working on it. Same goes for the need for a pedestrian bridge over Walnut Grove, which is basically a four-lane divided highway with a stoplight at Farm Road. Be careful crossing that with kids.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Not-so Free Media

Posted By on Fri, Apr 1, 2011 at 1:40 PM

I signed up for the online New York Times this week, and I have a feeling it's not the last time I'll be paying for newspapers that I used to read for free.

The Times started charging this week. There are three payment plans. Mine costs $15 every four weeks, or $195 a year if I stay with it. You can read the Times online for free, but only at the rate of 20 stories per month. I probably read 5-10 stories and columns a day, seven days a week, so I'd be way over the limit.

As a fan and freelancer for the Times, I'm glad to pay them. Value for value. A few years ago I signed up for the $50 a year all-access online plan, but that one didn't work and pretty soon the Times was free again, even Maureen Dowd's column and other content that they tried to keep behind a pay wall.

This will make three newspapers that I pay for. I get home delivery of The Commercial Appeal seven days a week for $15 a month. For an insomniac, it is a relief. It arrives every morning, usually before 4 a.m., and Internet access is free. I also get the print edition of The Wall Street Journal at the office for $119.88 a year, including Internet access.

I like these national newspapers better than the aggregators such as the Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. The coverage is more complete and the business model supports more working journalists.

The Washington Post remains free. That could be a problem for the Times and the Journal because its coverage is nearly as complete and they have some of my favorite writers like Dana Milbank and Joel Achenbach and features like "Five Myths About . . ."

If the Post were to charge $15 every four weeks, like the Times, I would be paying $790 a year if I signed up. At that price, I would ditch at least one of the three national papers.

The Commercial Appeal, like most mid-size dailies, is free online. As a newsman and former employee, I would pay for it in just about any case, but I can see how they have limited pricing power. The rate I pay now is already $5.69 less than the quoted monthly rate on the website.

The only other papers I read more than 20 stories a week from online are the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, in order to keep up with their pro sports teams and the University of Michigan football team. As long as there are two dailies, or almost-dailies in one city, I don't think they can charge me for Internet access. But we will see.

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Speaking of School Consolidation

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