Thursday, February 16, 2006

How About Hiring The RDC To Clean Up Downtown?

Walking through downtown Memphis, memories of Tokyo often come to mind.

In one of the largest cities in the world, regardless of the neighborhood or part of the city, the streets are immaculate and the sidewalks are clean. That’s because each morning, in a wholly Japanese sense of the collective, store owners sweep off the sidewalks and clean the gutters in front of their businesses.

Meanwhile, buses unload volunteers who come to the center of the city to clean the gardens of the Imperial Palace.

Looking out the windows of a corporate boardroom in a skyscraper overlooking the Imperial Palace and the Ginza, one Memphian commented: “The city is always so clean. You must have some really tough fines for littering.”

“We don’t have any laws against littering at all,” came the answer.

“Then why don’t people litter?” asked the Memphian.

“Because they’re not supposed to,” the Japanese host explained incredulously. “It’s our obligation to the community, because we live so close to each other, and the city needs to look as good as it can for all of us.”

It’s a civic ethos taught to even the youngest member of the community in Japan, and walking through downtown Memphis, it’s easy to wonder if we’re instilling just the opposite.

On our walks, we regularly pick up trash, ranging from dog excrement to broken beer bottles to what appears to be kitchen garbage. Sometimes, as an experiment, rather than pick up the trash, we leave it there, curious to see how long it will be before any city crews clean it up.

About a month ago, someone appeared to dump a small garbage can near Union and Front. We walked by it every day, and finally, convinced that it might stay there until summer, we picked it up.

It’s often confusing to most downtowners to know who is responsible for cleaning up our city’s common ground. The Center City Commission has responsibility for most of the downtown footprint and city crews are responsible for areas that border the footprint.

Whatever the division of labor is, it’s not working, so here’s our suggestion.

Hire the RDC to do it.

Regardless of your opinion about the Riverfront Development Corporation’s plans for the downtown riverfront (and we are enthusiastic supporters), there can be no debate that the riverfront has never been cleaner or more attractive.

RDC staff members are firm believers in “management by walking around,” and there is little that escapes their attention, from planting and weeding the landscaped medians to cleaning up rights-of-way and riverfront parks.

It seems a good time to entrust the cleaning and maintenance of all of downtown to the RDC, because its track record proves that it is up to the task.


Larry said...

It's bad enough that many Memphians don't pick up after themselves, but just a few months ago I was driving down Poplar when large drink cup and a paper sack, like you get from a drive-thru, came flying out the window ... the car had Arkansas tags. At that moment, I was wishing so badly that I was still in law enforcement and on duty so that I could have pulled them over.

I can't say whether or not if the RDC was responsible for picking up any trash on the streets. However, I am convinced that their plans for the Promenade is not only a boondoggle but just plain stupid and butt ugly.

Smart City Consulting said...

Larry: The outrage that triggers my urge to scream out the car window is the guy who decides to empty his ashtray at the stoplight. And I guess differences of opinions are what make horse races. We like the plans for the promenade -- the real plans, not the ones created by Friends of the Riverfront. SCC

Larry said...

Maybe another area of agreement ... I think those who dump their ashtrays on the streets deserve to have their noses rubbed in it.

As for the Friends' vision, I much prefer it to the RDC's,

There is plenty of office space and empty buildings downtown, we don't need to build any more on the Promenade.

LeftWingCracker said...

My one disagreement with this blog (yep, pretty much that's it; well, that and having the Mayor recalled!) is the RDC plan for the riverfront.

OK, so you want the Memphis riverfront to look more like Manhattan. Pardon me if I don't join you; let's instead continue the redevelopment of Main Street if you want more businesses downtown.

Chicago has great buildings on the lakefront, but it also has incredible views thanks to the immense amount of parkspace between the buildings and the lake.

Just from the view at the Friends site (thanks, Larry) it looks more people-friendly than the RDC plan.

While you have had terrific posts on our tax structure, the PILOT program and the lack of creative people moving here, I can't go there with you on the RDC plan.

Smart City Consulting said...

I think we digress, but we don't want the riverfront to look like Manhattan. We just want it to look like Chattanooga or anywhere that has understood that it is not a stage set frozen in time. The RDC plan actually increased the greenspace downtown, did not add a bunch of highrise buildings, etc. Our biggest problem with the Friends approach is the way they play loose with the facts. And offer nothing that turns the riverfront into a magnet for the growth in talent that we must have if we are to succeed in the knowledge-based economy. As so many visitors to Memphis say, the riverfront offers a tired, lethargic image that does Memphis no favors.

Anonymous said...

I have no problems with a beautiful riverfront. However, I believe equal amount of attention needs to be place all over the city.

When visitors come to town, the only place to take them would be downtown. Hopefully, they will never ask to see the other parts of the city. Agree with your views on cleaning up the city. Wouldn't have problems with RDC cleaning up downtown. In the meantime, let's search for other organizations who can clean up the rest of the city. Do it, but let's do it all over Memphis instead of one specific area of town.

Larry said...

I've read over the RDC's plans. It does indeed call for "a bunch of highrise buildings". Look on page 4 of the pdf document on their website. Notice the NEW highrise buildings depicted there.

Yea, those new concrete canyons create new greenspace if you count the lobbies of the highrises they want to build. Not only have I studied their plans but I've walked the terrain. The RDC needs to quit smoking that funny weed.

It is the RDC that is playing loose with the facts. I read over the views of both sides before deciding to support the Friends.

Building new highrises won't act as a magnet for downtown! What kind of logic is that???

Downtown is finally on the rebound because people are moving downtown ... not because people from Germantown are going there to eat dinner or shop! We had great stores downtown and the closed for the lack of business! Why would anyone from Cordova need ... much less want ... to go downtown to shop???

The RDC's plan for the Promenade is just another albatross (along with the downtown-airport light rail idea) that will just wind up costing the taxpayers a HUGE amount of money and driving the city further into debt.

BTW, I just returned from Chattanooga. I was able to talk with the people involved the downtown revitalization there. Memphis' approach is 180 degrees out of sync with Chattanooga approach ... which is probaby why Chattanooga's approach is held up as a model while Memphis is held up to ridicule.

mike said...

I moved to Memphis about 20 years ago and was impressed with the "City Beautiful" image it presented and burnished. It really was a green, clean city, and darn proud of it!

Not so much today. City and civic leadership have taken their eyes off the ball, moved on to other priorities. Parts of Memphis that had a "poor but proud" look then are just shabby today.

On the other topic, I'm with Larry. The RDC plan is nothing but turning over yet more public land to private developers for profit. Why, when so many other buildings downtown are empty do we need more towers?

Part of the proble, of course, is the retro-habbing requirements for repurposing those old buildings. The ADA, modern zoning / safety and other historic preservation requirements mean it's very expensive to make them modern offices. Not to mention sqeezing in modern HVAC, electricity, fire safety and telecommunications needs.

What's needed are either sugar-daddies who are willing to spend that kind of money and tenants willing to pay those kinds of rents -- or -- a city willing to underwrite a lot of those costs in the name of rehabbing. I don't think either is very likely right now.

Much as it pains me, we may need to consider allowing some of them to come down to make room for new. It's preferable to carving up the last remaining public land in the district.

Smart City Consulting said...

Larry, page 4 speaks of a potential proposal. I don't see an endorsement, and the location where most of the development was proposed was the now abandoned new land created to generate revenues to pay for the plan. But in the end, there are so many eyesores that need to be addressed (the old Prince Mongo club comes to mind).

Smart City Consulting said...

Mike, the RDC plan makes sure that there is no last remaining public land. It actually creates more. The reality is that there is no economic reality that is going to revive life into the downtown streets that we loved decades ago. Downtown has the highest percentage of Class A office space in Shelby County. That's what the market is asking for, not just rehabbed buildings. If we're asking who's going to make money from things changing in accordance with the RDC plan, it's always worth asking who will profit from things staying the same.

mike said...

I'm not sure if the RDC plan "creates more public land" as that it just removes some of the earlier encroachments, like the Fire Station, etc. The huge original Promenade space has had corners and bits taken off for decades. Getting them back isn't "creating new."

"The reality is that there is no economic reality that is going to revive life into the downtown streets that we loved decades ago." And yet the City is quite willing to dump more than a billion dollars into the Downtown in the effort to do just that.