Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pecan Bark

Posted By on Wed, Sep 29, 2010 at 1:54 PM

As part of its commitment to plant one million trees in the park, the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy held its first "One in a Million Tree" contest this month.

Twenty trees from across the county were nominated with the winning entry a 275-year-old pecan tree submitted by Lee Millar.

The pecan towers over Millar's Collierville home, on the same site as early log cabin.

"After researching the history of the site with two of Collierville’s town historians, and reviewing old land deeds and grants, I discovered that the property was given as a land grant to its earliest recorded owner
following his service in the revolutionary war," Miller said. "A log cabin was built under the tree, which would have already been large enough to provide shade at that time.”

Entries were judged on size, age, historical significance, and beauty, and I have to say: The Shelby Farms Park Conservancy got some really amazing judges to help them out. Just great, great judging prowess. (Oh, right. Full disclosure, I was one of them.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Midtown Overlay Passes

Posted By on Tue, Sep 28, 2010 at 6:03 PM

With several amendments from member Reid Hedgepeth, the Memphis City Council unanimously passed the Midtown District Overlay Tuesday afternoon.

"I think some things in this are unbelievable. I think it will make development in this area a lot nicer," Hedgepeth said, "but I think there are also a lot of flaws in this."

In particular, Hedgepeth felt the overlay would be easy for developers to circumvent with a planned use development, or pud, designation, often used now to skirt zoning regulations. Instead, one of his amendments gave more power to the Office of Planning and Development (OPD) and the Land Use Control Board to approve variances.

Another amendment asked that the overlay district not include a design review committee. The university district has a design review committee that looks at development designs, but recommendations for approval come from OPD.

"We don't want to see a three- or four-member group that sways the decisions of OPD," Hedgepeth said.

Council member Jim Strickland said he had no problem with there not being an official Midtown review committee.

"It's meaningless. We can't stop neighbors from getting together and calling themselves the Midtown Design Review Committee," he said. "There's no way to stop neighbors from calling council members [and] talking to OPD. We can't prohibit people from exercising their rights to free speech."

The Midtown District Overlay, sponsored by council member Shea Flinn, was the result of a controversy over design standards at a proposed grocery store in Overton Square.

Flinn said he hoped it would "create a more walkable, vibrant" Midtown. The overlay is also said to give neighbors and developers standards and a sense of predictability when it comes to new developments.

"The current zoning requirements took a one-size-fits-all approach and were geared more to suburban development," said OPD's Don Jones. "It made it very difficult to develop inside the loop."

False Alarm

Posted By on Tue, Sep 28, 2010 at 11:57 AM

There's no need to be alarmed.

City Council members in the public safety and homeland security committee discussed proposed changes to the city's alarm ordinance, including a measure that would require home security companies to submit a list of new alarm installations to the city.

"One of the things that's unclear in the current ordinance is if someone is operating an alarm without a permit," said council member Kemp Conrad. "Before, we would not necessarily have known if someone did that."

Home owners are required to pay a small fee and obtain a permit to operate an alarm system. Under the proposed ordinance, the alarm companies would give the homeowners all the forms needed to get the permit at the time of installation. If the resident didn't register the alarm in 30 days, they would be contacted by the Metro Alarm Office and could be indicated a lower priority call should their alarm go off.

Part of the reason for the amendment is to curb false alarm calls.

Not everyone was happy with the changes. Councilman Joe Brown said that he would file a lawsuit against the city if he was a citizen.

"We're constantly coming up with these fees and fines," he said. "Somewhere we have to draw the line."

Conrad noted that the amendment didn't change the current fee.

"We have a whole office dedicated to managing it. That why there is a fee," he said. "We're not increasing it because the office operates at a surplus."

Council member Barbara Swearengen Ware had a problem with something that would rank unregistered alarm or repeated false alarm calls a lower priority for first responders.

"I would rather see you fine them after a certain number of times. Putting people on a 'do not respond' list is a dangerous path to go down," she said. "We can't justify that."

City officials clarified that police would respond, but the timing would be dictated by call volume.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Talk Show

Posted By on Fri, Sep 24, 2010 at 8:30 AM

Ignite, "a fast-paced geek event," is coming to Memphis.

Started by Brady Forrest, Technology Evangelist for O'Reilly Media, and Bre Pettis of, formerly of MAKE Magazine, Ignite is a collection of short talks given by chosen applicants.

Using five minutes and 20 slides, each one will get to talk about, well, whatever they want. But only for five minutes.

From the event's application form:

"What will you teach, show, share, or explain? Make it exciting! Any topic is fair game, as long as it’s PG-13 and isn’t a sales pitch."

Deadlines for submission is Friday, October 1st, and Ignite Night Memphis is Tuesday, October 12th, at Playhouse on the Square. Tickets can be purchased here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Library Tech

Posted By on Thu, Sep 23, 2010 at 3:48 PM

The last time I went to the Poplar-White Station branch library, I was surprised to realize I couldn't connect to the internet with my laptop. No wireless.

But that's not the case any more.

As part of the its 2010 strategic plan, the Memphis Public Library and Information Center has put a renewed emphasis on bridging the digital divide, starting with wireless internet access at every location.

The library system, which currently has about 600 internet-accessible public computers, also plans to add about 60 more computers in the next two years.

"We always have a line [for the computers]," library director Keenon McCloy said at a meeting of the Friends of Poplar-White Station Branch Library this morning. "At most branches, we even have a line when we open each morning."

Library Director Keenon McCloy (right) with Memphis magazines own Joy Bateman at a June event.
  • Don Perry
  • Library Director Keenon McCloy (right) with Memphis magazine's own Joy Bateman at a June event.

The library's website will be getting an overhaul and, though you can download audiobooks now (who knew?), will include steaming video and podcasts from WYPL, the library's radio and television station.

The library is also planning to take a page from national retailers, with a pilot project for self-checkout at the Ben Hooks central library.

"People are used to doing things themselves," McCloy said. "It's an efficient way for people to check books out."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

City Asks for Skatepark Input

Posted By on Wed, Sep 22, 2010 at 11:49 AM

The city of Memphis is asking local skaters what they'd like to see in the city's first public skatepark, due to open next fall.

The 10,000-square-foot park, which will be located in Tobey Fields next to the city's new dog park — and right behind the parks services offices — has been in the works for several years.

"The key is this: We are seeing a gradual revolution in the city where ... fitness is rising to the top," said Memphis mayor A C Wharton at a meeting in Orange Mound last night. "It's not about the size of the skatepark; it's about the depth of commitment to changing this city."

Two views of a 17,000-square-foot Wormhoudt-designed skatepark built in Venice Beach last year
  • Two views of a 17,000-square-foot Wormhoudt-designed skatepark built in Venice Beach last year

Zach Wormhoudt of skatepark designers Wormhoudt Inc. said they had no preconceived notions of what the park should be. But participants were shown pictures of bowls, rails, half-pipes, and snake runs, among others, to get an idea of what the park could look like, and they talked about flow, sight lines, and vert.

Several skaters also asked about including certain amenities: shade, seating for spectators, elecrical outlets, lighting for night skating, and nearby drinking fountains. Because adding those amenities would cut into the park's $440,000 construction budget — the city recently added lighting to some soccer fields at a cost of $250,000 — there was some talk about the skating community hosting fundraisers.

"This is the city's first permanent skatepark," Wormhoudt said. "We need to make sure it's a success from Day One."

To compile input, the city has posted an online survey on its website. After viewing 40 pictures, survey participants will be asked to rank what they would like to see the most.

The last day to take the survey is Tuesday, September 28th.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Game Theory

Posted By on Tue, Sep 21, 2010 at 2:32 PM

Lately, we've been keeping an eye on national education reform, if only b/c of Memphis' unique place in it.

But Memphis isn't the only place looking for new models and innovation in education. Last week's NYT magazine was all about the intersect of technology and education, and included a long piece about a public school in New York that uses video games as their basis for teaching.

(It also included a Q&A with national education secretary Arne Duncan.)

Quest to Learn is a middle school, now in its second year, conceived by professional game designer Katie Salen and funded in part by the MacArthur Foundation. Salen also directs a research-based organization called Institute of Play that examines the connection between games and learning.

It might sound radical to design an entire school around gaming, but the people involved make a pretty good case for using video games and technology: Children who have access to computers master point and clicking with a mouse by age 4. When it comes to getting a child's attention and keeping it, game designers are "getting something right that schools, in many cases, are getting wrong." Failure in a game is considered "brief, surmountable, often exciting" while failure in school is discouraging.

And we live in an increasingly digital world, one that most children have to learn about outside of school.

From the story:

"Quest to Learn is organized specifically around the idea that digital games are central to the lives of today's children and also increasingly, as their speed and capability grow, powerful tools for intellectual exploration. ...

A game, as Salen sees it, is really just a 'designed experience,' in which a participant is motivated to achieve a goal while operating inside a prescribed system of boundaries and rules. In this way, school itself is one giant designed experience. It could be viewed, in fact, as the biggest and most important game any child will ever play."

Marketplace Takes On Memphis

Posted By on Tue, Sep 21, 2010 at 9:40 AM

Memphis — and its lawsuit against Wells Fargo — were featured on American Public Media's Marketplace last night.

Jeremy Hobson and local attorney Steve Barlow drove through Orange Mound, and they estimated that a third of the neighborhood's homes have gone into foreclosure.

In the lawsuit, the city alleges that Wells Fargo violated the Fair Housing Act by engaging in what some call "reverse red-lining," targeting African-American families and neighborhoods for sub-prime loans. For more on that, click on this earlier story.

From Marketplace:

Attorney Steve Barlow says many of the former owners of these homes were doing just fine until lenders came along and convinced them to refinance or take on a second mortgage. An adjustable-rate loan that meant more cash in their pockets right away in exchange for a sky-high mortgage rate later. What's left for all to see is foreclosure after foreclosure.

Memphis mayor A C Wharton was quoted as saying the foreclosures have caused a big loss in property tax revenue. The piece also cited a statistic that between 2005 and 2008, the city lost 7,000 homeowners, two-thirds of them due to foreclosure.

Closer to home, the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center has begun filming what it calls "Blightwatch."

In this particular video, Peace & Justice showcases a home at 1253 Capital now owned by JP Morgan Chase. But the firm hasn't paid city or county property taxes on the home in the last three years, a debt that amounts to $2,099.27 in unpaid taxes.

That might not sound like a lot, but multiply that by the number of similar foreclosures and it starts to add up.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tree Line

Posted By on Mon, Sep 20, 2010 at 12:45 PM

When plans for Shelby Farms Park were unveiled, the park conservancy made a pledge to plant a million trees in the park (though it may take some time to do it).


To celebrate that commitment, the conservancy is currently holding a "One in a Million Trees" contest.

Residents are invited to nominate their favorite tree or the one they consider most significant by submitting a photo or a sketch of the tree, the location of the tree, and a short essay describing why the tree is one in a million to Several local judges (of which I am one, no doubt due to my extensive background in arborology and treeyness) will determine the winner.

All nominations must be made by Thursday, September 23rd, and the winner will be announced Tuesday, September 28th.

For more information, go to

Kroc Pot

Posted By on Mon, Sep 20, 2010 at 12:08 PM

I don't know if y'all have gotten by the fairgrounds lately, but things over there have really started to take shape.

Tiger Lane looks nice and you can see the beginnings of the more than 100,000 square foot Kroc Center from East Parkway.

With a $25 million from the Salvation Army, as well as $25 million raised locally, the Kroc Center will offer a variety of arts, education, recreation, and worship opportunities.

And now you can visit them — virtually, at least — on the web.

The site, which offers information on the Kroc Center, as well as program partners and the history of the Mid-South Fairgrounds, lets anyone interested in being a member or a volunteer sign up now before the center opens next fall.

It also has a clock — currently at 405 days and 11 hours — counting down to opening day.

"Our programming is dependent on a large pool of volunteers," said program director Ty Cobb in a statement. "By asking folks now to let us know they are interested in volunteering opportunities, we will be able to build a solid database of people to train as volunteers to be ready for the opening of the Center."


Friday, September 17, 2010

This is Curious ...

Posted By on Fri, Sep 17, 2010 at 8:55 AM

Curious Pictures started last Friday and I didn't get to go to it, but it sounds cool, I have to say.

Every Friday until October 8th, digital artwork by local artists will be projected on downtown buildings.

It's a flat surface; why not?

From the UrbanArt blog:

These video vignettes will be projected onto various buildings in Downtown Memphis to bring life to our cityscape and demonstrate the possibilities and potential of new media art within the public realm.

This week Erik Jambor of Indie Memphis will transform Gayoso Avenue into a walk-up theater by showing Godfrey Reggio's KOYAANISQATSI on the north wall of the Jolly Royal Furniture Store.

And then next week Sarah Fleming and Christopher Reyes will light up Center Lane near the Madison Hotel with their unique interpretation of video art today.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

HIV Testing at Cooper-Young

Posted By on Thu, Sep 16, 2010 at 8:45 AM

The Cooper Young Festival is this weekend. Generally I wouldn't mention it because it doesn't really seem to need the press, and I'm not really the event person. But Bianca Phillips wrote about a new book on Cooper Young this week in our print product.

And I wanted to mention that Planned Parenthood and the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center will be offering free HIV testing at 892 S. Cooper during the festival. The test will be done with a simple mouth swab, and results should be ready in about half an hour.

Testing is always free at Planned Parenthood's new facility on Poplar, and on Wednesday nights at the MGLCC, but this seems mighty convenient.

From my friends at those two organizations:

More than 5,700 people in Memphis and Shelby County are currently living with HIV/AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as one in every 5 people who are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, do not know they have the virus.

[I also realized this week I really need a "health" tag, too. And maybe "built environment."]

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reading the Public Realm

Posted By on Wed, Sep 15, 2010 at 8:45 AM

The Memphis Regional Design Center will start another session of its Urban Design 101 on September 28th.

I've taken this class and thought it was really great. And, of course, I wrote about it.

What is the Regional Design Center? I wrote about that, too. Check it out here.

From the Regional Design Center itself:

UD 101 will examine the transformative impact that innovative physical planning and design of the "public realm" are having upon the quality and success of urban life. The course will introduce a cross section of our region's civic leaders - representing a mix of public, private and non-profit organizations - to the basic concepts, vocabulary, and techniques of urban design as reflected in a variety of contemporary place-making initiatives in Memphis and across the country.

Fun, no?

For more information, contact Chooch Pickard at

Monday, September 13, 2010


Posted By on Mon, Sep 13, 2010 at 8:45 AM

[Posting will probably be light this week ... My apologies in advance.]

Along with Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen, both Memphis mayor A C Wharton and newly elected Shelby County mayor Mark Luttrell will be at a summit on infant mortality today at 1 p.m. at the FedEx Institute of Technology.

I don't know if it still holds true, but two years ago, Memphis had a higher infant mortality rate than any other major U.S. city: one death roughly every two days.

The infant mortality "Stay the Course" summit will highlight the continued work in combating infant mortality in Tennessee.

Here's a link to a piece I wrote two years ago about a ministry at Hope Presbyterian called Oasis of Hope. Under the program, young mothers get prenatal care and help after their babies are born.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bike/Ped All

Posted By on Fri, Sep 10, 2010 at 8:45 AM

This week I did a Q&A with Kyle Wagenschutz, the new bike/ped coordinator for the city of Memphis and the Memphis area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

It's a notable step for the city, hiring its first bike/ped coordinator. It shows a commitment to alternative forms of transportation, and in a sprawling city such as Memphis, that's new.


Mayor A C Wharton said Wagenschutz would be working for the entire community "from the core city to the suburbs and all points in between."

"Having a bicycle/pedestrian coordinator on staff brings Memphis closer to the forefront of livability and sustainability programming," Wharton said. "Making our community more walkable and bikable will inherently make us all safer and healthier by encouraging exercise, responsible street-sharing among motorists, and reducing carbon emissions."

Also, I just really love this picture of Wagenschutz.

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