Saturday, March 24, 2007

City Council Hopeful Leaves Us Hoping For Facts

We’re always excited by the prospect of new faces and fresh voices willing to get involved in our city’s political process.

To that end, we’ve been encouraged by reviews that we’ve heard about Denise Parkinson and by reports about her intentions to run for District 5 of Memphis City Council. That’s why her Q&A with Memphis Flyer was so disappointing.

If facts are often the first casualty of a political campaign, it could be argued that her fingerprints are on the murder weapon.

The Illuminati

The dominant features of the Q&A were mistakes of facts and insinuations about clandestine conspiracies – two tendencies already much too prevalent in this city.

The article begins with dire warnings about “shadowy, quasi-governmental nonprofits that are systematically looting the system.” She urges us to “connect the dots” and indicts Memphis Light, Gas & Water, the Riverfront Development Corporation and the Mid-South Fair as examples of these plundering agencies.

There’s only one problem: there’s not one quasi-governmental nonprofit among them. MLGW is in fact a government agency; nothing shadowy there. The RDC and the Mid-South Fair are incorporated private nonprofit organizations and are no more quasi-governmental than the Memphis Arts Council and Agricenter International.

Sticky Fingers

We’re not exactly sure how the public coffers are mysteriously being emptied by these entities, but we assume she’ll reveal that during her campaign (or to the federal grand jury). Actually, the RDC – whose performance contract with city government to maintain downtown riverfronts and parks provides about half of its budget - has actually saved Memphis city government more than $1 million. A key reason the Mid-South Fair is retrenching is because it doesn’t get public funding. MLGW budgets are debated in public meetings and approved by city officials.

But this was just the open volley of a barrage of political hyperbole that shows that her mayoral aspirations while living in Little Rock were put to good use. She then offers up the revelation that “government by demolition” is destroying our skyline.

We fight the impulse to say, “what skyline?” but instead, we think of the vacant Pyramid, the long-empty old police department headquarters, the deteriorating Sterick Building, the dozens of empty buildings on Main Street, and in our downtown neighborhood, the god-awful boarded-up eyesores across from the main Fire Department HQs that apparently pass for historic buildings.

A Good Problem To Have

Sometimes, it looks an awful lot like serious code enforcement by local government would erase a big part of downtown, so it’s a little mind-numbing to contemplate what government by demolition even means.

God forbid that we would actually want a real skyline here any way. After all, these days, even Mobile, Alabama, has more to brag about than we do.

Maybe it’s just us, but it would be an exciting problem to have if we had to demolish some of these eyesores to put up some new buildings, because, when compared to our rival cities, our downtown has underperformed for more than a decade.

Conspiracies Galore

But Ms. Parkinson’s not content to stop there. Then she raises the specter of the paving over and bulldozing of historic parks. Excuse us, but can you say Overton Park expressway? She didn’t connect these dots, but we’re confident it would have been shocking.

Next, she suggests that Memphis needs to be more family friendly and more kid friendly to beef up its tourism. There’s no specifics, just an allegation that she lays out there, but looking over the CVB portfolio of attractions, it’s pretty hard to figure out just where the family unfriendly attractions are (unless you’re dragging the kids down Beale Street at 2 a.m.).

As for her call to beef up tourism, it’s worth noting that the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau – with a budget significantly lower than its peer cities - has a greater ROI than its Nashville counterpart. And it’s not even a close call.


Finally, she’s able to take inspiration from efforts to save Libertyland. We admit that we’ve never grasped the compelling reason why this makes any historical or financial sense. The best justification we've heard for saving this third-rate theme park is that it provided summer jobs for area youths, but there are many more financially sensible ways to do this than Libertyland, not to mention teaching job and soft skills these youths could actually use.

We don’t mean to be too hard on Ms. Parkinson, but when you come out of the shoot promising to deliver reform and progress – two things badly needed in this city – at least also promise to deliver the facts.

Giving her the benefit of a doubt, perhaps she was just working too hard to offer up some red meat to her supporters, but if the interview is any indication, it’s going to be a long, long summer.

51 comments: said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Smart City Consulting said...

To avoid any conspiratorial thinking, the comment that was deleted was unrelated to this subject and a spam post to several days' commentaries.

sherman said...

Memphis definitely needs more visionary leadership at all levels. However, I am not convinced that someone who believes Libertyland is either historic and/or worth "saving" is the kind of visionary Memphis has the most urgent need for.

The would-be politician in question did a masterful job at alienating many potential backers during her so-called grassroots campaign to save the long-outmoted park known as Libertyland. In order to register anything above a minor blip on the local politics scene, she will have to act much more adult-like in public forums; quit babbling like an insane hippie; and avoid hurling invective at all who do not disagree with her "vision."

I would hope her platform for government reform goes beyond saving a pathetic, third rate amusement park. Since the building of the beautiful Autozone Park in 2000, Memphis has turned the corner on accepting and supporting such mediocre facilities.

sherman said...

That should say agree, not disagree.

Anonymous said...

Sherman's got it right on the money. I can't figure out why the Flyer would give so much attention to such babbling. She's got to learn to engage her mind before her mouth.

Anonymous said...

A major problem with Chumney is that she will do anything and hurt anyone to be the mayor. She has brought all kinds of negative attention, even national (recent NY Times article), on the City of Memphis to hurt the Mayor.

If she has a positive record and great vision, she should be able to run on her record and vision.

bob said...

"The RDC and the Mid-South Fair are incorporated private nonprofit organizations and are no more quasi-governmental than the Memphis Arts Council and Agricenter International."

Exceyse me? How is an organization NOT quasi-governmental when it was formed to take over functions and budget of parts of city government, has worked closely in full cooperation with the City government (both in and out of public view), has city officials on its board, takes full advantange of the government's resources, and asserts effective ownership and control of public property?

I hate to get personal, but was this post perchance written by someone who was closely associated with the RDC both before it's official formation (when its activities were hidden from public view) and later as a public relations consultant whose task was to win public support for the RDC's activities?

Assuming that is the case, then this blog should begin practicing some disclosure. Perhaps posts to the blog should be signed by the writer, so we can judge the veracity and biases of the writer.

Smart City Consulting said...

Actually, this blog is written by someone who has never been nor is associated with the RDC, but it seems symptomatic of the kinds of whisper campaigns that are associated with certain folks that you'd make that assertion.

Next question?

Smart City Consulting said...

As for quasi-public organization, it's not quasi-public or remotely public if local government can't abolish it or appoint its members. Think Memphis Zoological Society or Agricenter International or CVB, etc., etc.

There are organizations in Memphis that receive much more of its budget from public sources than the RDC - whose public share is about 50% and paid for a contract to maintain the riverfront and parks and has saved the city $1 million in the process - and it still doesn't make them quasi-public organization.

And we're not sure what asserts effective ownership of the property even means. If it believes that it owns the riverfront, why did it execute a series of hearings attended by more than 1,000 people? If it believes that it owns the riverfront, why has it acted in response to the public input?

As for determining veracity, why don't you disclose who you are so we can all make that decision about you? These kinds of smears don't work anymore.

Smart City Consulting said...

Whoops, forgot to ask, how did Councilwoman Chumney get into this?

Anonymous said...

It sounds like the pot is calling the kettle black. I think the person who's complaining about disclosure writes the 55-40 Memphis blog, where he says: Let's keep this friendly. You don't know me, and I don't know you.

Funny how he doesn't tell us who he is, but he's sure you need to.

bob said...

I am a mere citizen of Memphis, with no financial or business interests affected by this topic. As my own blog says, I have absolutely no connection with any politician or any aspect of the city or county government. And that's all you need to know.

But your readers need to know that the SCM blog is (last I heard) associated with Carol Coletta, who was a key part of the organizational team that founded the RDC, and who subsequently had a multi-year contract with the RDC as its PR consultant. Am I mistaken?

Since I actually think this blog (normally) does a public service and is (usually) very informative, I find it very disconcerting when, on the rare occasion that it has to speak of the RDC, the blog gives us the undiluted "RDC spin of world". Even your citations in the last comments are copied straight out of RDC website/promotional literature (which Coletta herself probably had a hand in writing).

You (the writer, if not Coletta) are sadly under-informed about the subject of the RDC. You are diminishing your own credibility to even write about the subject if all you can to is parrot RDC talking points.

Regardless, I think Coletta ought to disclose her deep connections with the RDC, and/or recuse herself (and this blog) from any mention of it.

Ironically, I would not have even known about Denise Parkinson's remarks except having seen the mention here. I still don't know if she's a credible candidate, but here is what I think: Your attack on the correctness of her use of the word "quasi-governmental" is, at best, hair-splitting that misses the point. Parkinson's description remains as one of the most memorable, succinct, and dead-on descriptions of the whole RDC/Riverfront affair that I've ever seen. Thanks for calling it to my attention! I will certainly look forward to hearing more from Denise.

Link to Denise Parkinson interview

bob said...

I had to get Google to cough this up from its cache, because your web site gives errors, but here is an interesting bullet from Carol Colleta's "Firm Accomplishments" [my own emphasis]:

Instrumental in start-up of the Riverfront Development Corporation, a public-private partnership to transform the Memphis riverfront. Developed and executed a communication strategy to win control of riverfront parks and secure funding for a $1 million master plan. Responsible for leading public processes to determine future uses of riverfront.

These are Coletta's own words, mind you. I believe it answers the question you had for me in your comment.

And what of that $1M plan. First it was actually $1.3M. Second, it never showed up on RDC's books. The City paid for it. It also paid Robert Spence's salary and the untold amount of fees of an out of town law firm to research the question of how the City could use eminent domain to convert the Public Promenade to private development. What else has the City paid on RDC's behalf that has not been counted in the $1M savings the RDC claims?

And was she responsible for "leading public processes" as she claims? Darn straight. In exactly the same way Dick Cheney led us to war. The "pre-RDC" buried the results of the first public forum they conducted (1999), because they didn't like the answers. The forums Carol Coletta arranged and conducted were AFTER the major decisions were already made, and their purpose was to SELL the public, not to get the public's viewpoint.

bob said...

Lest anybody think I'm making this stuff up, just go here to read the RDC's own secret minutes. Read that web page carefully from top to bottom and you will understand far better the meaning of Denise Parkinson's remarks about "shadowy, quasi-governmental nonprofits that are systematically looting the system."

Anonymous said...

For the record - The RDC federal tax return for 2005, says that 96.0126% of their income is public money, and that's down from previous years. Looks quasi-governmental to me.

Smart City Consulting said...


Thanks for identifying yourself (at least somewhat), since your blog is a favorite of ours. Here's a company principle that we have: we only comment on issues that we are passionate about and where we think we can make a difference. We're sorry if this one offends you.

Carol's on sabbatical from this firm and doesn't write any posts or review them. In other words, the conclusions are the authors, and forgive us for actually thinking that the strident mythology created by some critics of the RDC only diminishes our ability to reach agreement.

We'll respond to some of your comments in the coming days, but suffice it to say that we don't agree with your facts and if the RDC is trying to conduct a secret operation, it's doing a pretty pathetic job of it. If it is, why does it open its meetings and its records although it's not required to do so by law. If you want to read minutes, just send them a letter.

It seems that when you disagree with us, we are but sycophants for the RDC, but it's actually pretty simple. On many issues, we think the RDC is getting it right, and like we do on every other issue, we'll say what we think without worrying about anyone's official point of view. The tendency

Let me repeat: the writers of this blog do not work for the RDC nor does they consult anyone at the RDC before writing his opinion. And that's the case with every thing we write here.

By the way, if you'd like to read Carol's blog and interested in what she's discussing these days, please visit it at

Meanwhile, to follow up the tone of your comments, are you involved in any organizations opposing the RDC or its plans? Are there any associations of yours that we should consider as we weigh your comments?

We'll get back to this subject later today. Thanks for reminding us how much the facts need to be reestablished on these issues.

Smart City Consulting said...

Bob: If the public process was only to sell the plan and not really listen to the public, why did the plan change in light of the public's opinions?

The Cheney reference, since you clearly know our politics here, is typical of the way that discussions quickly sink to villification, and that's part of our problem with the RDC discussion and the other public conversations here. We're hard the smears of anyone who disagrees with some who oppose the RDC, so can't we just discuss these issues without the personal attacks?

And as a mere citizen of Memphis, as you put it, your interest is civic. So is ours, and we'll respect your civic position if you'll respect ours.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like the guy who's accusing you of being unfair has drunk the kool-aid himself.

bob said...

If you want to open a discussion about the Riverfront, that's a good thing and probably long overdue. But let me suggest that you not rush it, just to get a post out today. You have a lot of catching up and re-learning to do, since you evidently have taken what the RDC says at face value and discounted what their opponents say.

Take your time. Re-examine the history going back to Mayor Herenton's first election to office. No, go back even further --back to when the Center City Commission already had a strategy for the Riverfront, which the Mayor simply threw out in order to put his own stamp on the Riverfront.

Tom Guleff said...

Interesting. Does anyone have a comprehensive report of the organizations in Memphis that are publicly funded? (with the organizations' ratio of public vs private funds).

Smart City Consulting said...

Bob: We've been involved in the riverfront issues for 30 years, so we feel like we have more right to express our opinions as any one involved in this. So much of life depends on your point of view. We know that the public hearings were to gather public input and that the plan changed as a result of it. If the city paid about 80% of the plan for the RDC, hasn't it done the same for the zoo and for the arts council over the years? The RDC has a contract to provide specific services for a set fee, and based on what we see, the riverfront has never looked better, leading us to suggest that the RDC should be put into the maintenance and clean-up of all downtown. As for eminent domain, the RDC has taken the position - at least based on our review of its meetings - that it doesn't have a dog in that fight.

There's much to be discussed about the riverfront, and every one's voice needs to be heard. We hope that means that ours is also.

By the way, we listen to what the opponents say, and that's why we are concerned about a return to civility about these questions and to setting out the facts. The opponents don't have a corner on the truth either.

Smart City Consulting said...


An interesting question. It sounds like a public records request would be needed to city, county and state government. The tougher question is getting the private to public ratio. You'd probably then have to look at the organizations' 990's to figure that out. It would be quite an undertaking since in the past six years alone, probably more than 150 various agencies have received public funding. We'll keep thinking about it, and if we think of a simpler way, we'll let you know. Simplicity and government rarely come in the same sentence.

Smart City Consulting said...

Anonymous: We were talking about the operating budget when we were talking about 50 percent of the RDC's budget coming from nonpublic sources. Thanks for pointing out that we needed to clarify it.

autoegocrat said...

Just as a side request, it would be nice if the SCM blog posters were distinguished from one another, either by pseudonym or ordinal (SCM1, 2, 3, etc.) The lack of a signature leaves the reader to guess at the identity of the writer by their writing habits. I get more than my fill of that on Thaddeus Matthews' blog.

Smart City Consulting said...

Autoegocrat: We've made a corporate (in the communal sense of the word)decision that the posts represent the cumulative opinions of our firm's staff, and for that reason, we don't single out authors.

Anonymous said...

So, what happened to the post from Friday, March 23?

bob said...

The post about race and politics? Oh my goodness. You are right. It has disappeared.

And so, I imagine, will this one.

[Notch] [Notch] (Sound of respect ratcheting down...)

Smart City Consulting said...

We were contacted by two news outlets asking about the statistics, and while we felt confident about them, we took it down to reconfirm them and contact the source of them. Two of us worked as daily newspaper reports, so despite Bob's suspicions, we do care about the facts. It's back up.

Smart City Consulting said...

And if anyone is keeping score, we wrote about race and politics long before anyone else in the blogosphere.

Anonymous said...

Thank God. I was really nervous because I had referred several people, some VIPs to the posting about race and politics because it struck me as so explosive that as many as possible needed to see it.

Smart City Consulting said...

anonymous: Thanks for even noticing. By the way, the source for the statistics is a study based on press reports of federal investigations and conducted by two retired professors, Dr. Donald C. Shields, Professor Emeritus from the Department of Communication, University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Dr. John F. Cragan, Professor Emeritus from the Department of Communication, Illinois State University, who have been collecting the data over the past several years. An earlier version of the study was presented to the National Communication Association in 2005. The latest summary of their data (through the end of 2006) was provided to us by Dr. Shields.

Anonymous said...

Noticed? I have been nearly obsessed since the moment I read that post. Memphis is like the smoking gun for the proposition bandied about in the national media and on Capitol Hill that the Justice Department has been targeting Democrats for and protecting Republicans from criminal prosecution. It is as if party affiliation has become an indictable offence.

gatesofmemphis said...

I hope Denise (and everyone else running for office) puts forwards and sticks to an affirmative vision of the future. There are too many great ideas out there to stay negative or merely oppositional. A waste of a pulpit. The best part is that even an occasional insane hippie idea will shine like gold in our present political climate.

bob said...

What exactly is being coyly alleged in that race and politics post? Did such a conversation actually take place?

The statistics aren't new - they have been all over the national lefty blogs.

mike said...

SMC wrote: And if anyone is keeping score, we wrote about race and politics long before anyone else in the blogosphere.

I've got to call shenanigans on this claim. I'm assuming you meant locally, and I was blogging long before SMC came on the scene and was definitely talking racial politics back then. Almost five years ago, now.

Also, Bob, I think you need to understand the difference between anonymous and pseudonymous and institutional voice. SMC is an institutional blog, where several people are presumed to be speaking in agreement with the corporate position. The individuals are subsumed into the larger whole. It's not anonymous in that an actual business which can be visited and confronted is the "author."

I have to agree, to change the subject, that SMC is splitting hairs about "quasi-public-private" entities like the RDC. The City has contracted out many of its functions to monopoly entities like this, where they do the job of the City but in a way that is shielded from many of the legal and oversight regulations, and problems, that the City might otherwise encounter in trying to do that job.

For example, if I have a problem with City Sanitation I can go to a supervisor and then a division head and on up to the Mayor until I get answers or get fed up. If I have a problem with the RDC I can go... where? To whom? If I complain to the RDC they send me to the City Council? The Mayor? And they send me back to the RDC.

Now I'm not being conspiratorial when I say that lots of things happen in the shadows. Think about it. SMC said there are 150 of these entities in Memphis? They all meet at least several times a year, if not weekly or monthly. Can anyone or any watchdog-type group (media or civic or personal) attend every single one of those meetings to see and hear what happens? All those minutes from the meetings don't capture what really happen, either, but they are filed... where? I know I can go read them all, but again, who has the time? And yes, they generate reports and presentations and papers, etc. etc. but, again, who has time to read them all?

It all goes into the Mayor's office (the City Attorney? a Records office? Where?) where the mayor, or more likely an aide or possibly a Division head, might scan it. And that's it. If something really important came up, I'm sure someone In the entitiy will call or visit the Mayor to update and inform him.

But do you see hwo the fragmentation and separation of all these government functions into the semi-private world has an alienating effect on the people themselves, in whose name the City at least nominally operates? The government, by virtue of their central position, gets to coordinate and defend, while the public is fragmented into numerous "special interest" groups who have great difficulty coordinating. Try to tell me the City doesn't take frequent advantage of this situation.

Ah. Better stop here. :-)

mike said...

Whoops, forgot to ask, how did Councilwoman Chumney get into this?

She sticks her nose into everything....

Smart City Consulting said...

Mike: You were writing about everything long before anyone else on the blogosphere. What we were referring to was that we were writing about the racial aspects of local prosecutions. Thanks for making sure we clarified that.

Smart City Consulting said...


Wonderful insight. According to state law, every public meeting is recorded. The actual transcripts should be typed up and posted online. To your point, we have some of the worst e-government operations in the U.S. The more technology can make our governments transparent, it seems the more obfuscated things become. We need an Office of Public Disclosure that makes sure every board's actions and transcripts are recorded and put online for all of us to see.

mike said...

Oh, OK. A bit more.

I just read the Prakinson interview and her only "crime" seems to be fuzzy thinking not nailed down by facts. I agree with her that the City is selling off lots of public properties to private business, with little direct return for the people of Memphis. Certainly not a return commensurate with the value of the properties!

Remember Foote and Cleburne Homes downtown? Public housing went away, in large part, and private apartments/condos went up. Who owns the land the apartments sit on? Who collects and keeps the rents? The City? Or some Turley or Belz enterprise?

I've been saying for years that the Fairgrounds (and rlated properties) have been allowed to suffer benign neglect so that they reach a critical point where they are so decrepit that repair is cost prohibitive. So, they must be torn down. Enter "public-private partnerships" to redevelop the properties! Some folks, and it always seems to be the usual suspects, make a lot of money and the City gets a very bad RoI.

The Promenade is a related phenomenon. The intent of the founders of Memphis was crystal clear: the land was to be kept as open, public space. Period. In some senses it's a relic of an older age when there wasn't a whole lot of private business that had 'semi-public' space for congregating to meet and talk. Communications technologies took away a lot of that need, too. But still, a place for the people to come together whenever they wanted, free of molestation by anyone except maybe a constable, was always the intent. Converting that space into shopping and offices is clearly against that intent.

And I still maintain that an open urban design contest for the space would give Memphis international attention. How many urban planners around the world wouldn't love to be able to design the next Central Park for Memphis?

Why does downtown still stagnate? Because the old skyscrapers must be expensively rehabbed to meet modern fire and ADA codes, as well as technology needs. No one has yet, in fifteen years, stepped up with a viable way to make that happen. And the buildings just continue to moulder. As much as I love the historic skyline we have, it may be necessary to seriously look at demolishing some to make way for the new. We likely won't get more tall buildings, but we'll get something. It should be explored.

There are noises about selling off or "privatising" Shelby Farms. And selling off MLG&W as well. It needs to stop. The City needs to step up to the plate and do their due diligence and their responsibility!

mike said...

Last one, I promise. ;-)

We're in complete agreement on an Office of Public Disclosure. Attach it to whomever keeps records and move FOIA request fulfillment over there, too. Put it all on the web, for stuff that can be safely shared immediately.

Now, the million dollar question: Where does the money come from? And how do we change the political culture to make openness a desirable virtue for public servants? Especially in corrupt Memphis?

bob said...

What mike said. Absolutely. In spades and triplicate with cherries on top.

Anonymous said...

While the thread is on public disclosure, I'd like to correct an inaccuracy about the RDC meetings being open to the public.
They sure should be, but Benny Lendermon and Robert Spence disagree. They contend that RDC meetings are NOT open to the public and that the public can only attend on an invitational basis.
There's a real need for transparency with all these quasi-governmental bodies. The public not only has a right to know how our money is being spent and how and on what basis decisions are being made, but also a right to play a role in the decision making process that effects basic government services.

Smart City Consulting said...

Mike: We think a start would be for all the bloggers in Memphis to keep up the pressure for something like an Office of Public Disclosure and for a real digital government. When you look, as you probably have, at what other cities are doing in the way of transparent e-government, we're stuck in a bygone time when people controlled the information to control the system. No one is more committed to opening up the process than most of us devoting time to blogging, and you're good at thinking through these things, how do we get every one behind this single overriding goal?

Smart City Consulting said...


Wasn't a lot of the public housing you're asking about torn down with Hope VI grants from the federal government with the intent of creating mixed-income developments rather than the warehousing of the poor which so badly failed. It's an interesting question about ownership; we'll check into it.

We think that whether Fairview School survives or is torn down will be the telling indicator of whether there was a grand plan to allow the area to deteriorate. There should be no excuse for tearing down that school, but there's some rumbling that's beginning to justify its demolition.

With the Mid-South Fair and its financial black hole, Libertyland, losing money and with the city refusing to spend money on those tired, old buildings, there never seemed to be a constituency for the upkeep of the area. If nothing else, that created a vacuum that developers filled, but unfortunately, the reason we have the usual suspects in this city is that we don't attract any outside developers, because we're seen as a weak market city, risky, if not declining. We'll know that we've really turned things around when the usual suspects have to compete with national developers, as they do in other cities, for key opportunities like the one at the Fairgrounds.

As for the Promenade, it was unquestionably set aside for public use, but how that is interpreted is the question. If garages can be built by the public and then turned over to the management of private parking companies, it would seem that the same model could apply to a restaurant, for example.

We tend to idealize the promenade as if there was never any commercial, or even industrial, uses there. It's not just an inconvenience that you can't buy a beer and a hamburger and sit on the riverfront or visit a waterfront market like those found in so many other cities, it's a serious competitive disadvantage, contributes to a feeling of a community that can't get its act together and results in the negative attitudes that we hear in focus groups of young professionals trying to decide on the cities where they will live and work.

Thanks for the commentary. You always provoke deeper thinking and thought about all of these issues.

Mike, if you were in charge of downtown, what would be the three things that you would do to turn things around?

sherman said...

With the Mid-South Fair and its financial black hole, Libertyland, losing money and with the city refusing to spend money on those tired, old buildings,there never seemed to be a constituency for the upkeep of the area

This statement is so true! For over 20 years, Libertyland became increasingly less attractive and appealing. No one--I mean no one--said or did a thing about it. Then, when the final nail in its coffin was announced, along comes somebody with a couple goofy signs throwing children in front of any camera that shows up, screaming about "freedom" and the city/developers destroying landmarks etc. Please!

Had there been a(ny) support group for Libertyland like Friends of the Library or what the Memphis zoo's constituents put together in the early '90s, Libertyland would neither have declined so much nor been tossed away like it was.

I'll repeat again, I hope the vision of this candidate goes far beyond what we have seen so far in her previous movements.

P.S. As far as having food closer to the river, I think it's no big deal to buy a tasty sandwich and a nice deviled egg or potato salad from the Front St. Deli & walk a block to the river or Tom Lee park with it. Do we really need a soda machine/McDonalds/Starbucks/whatever in Tom Lee Park to compete with other cities?

P.P.S. What's with all the anonymous posts on blogs? Do people really not want to stand behind what they write?

mike said...

SMC wrote: We think a start would be for all the bloggers in Memphis to keep up the pressure for something like an Office of Public Disclosure and for a real digital government.

Bloggers in Memphis don't amount to squat in terms of influence. It will change with time, but right now we all have a total local audience measured in the hundreds; maybe the low thousands. That's just the truth.

I've blogged on the Mid-South Fair. It's a relic of a long-gone era of farmers in the area, a distorted echo of agricultural times. What survives is a gaudy, tacky money-suck. It deserves to go away. Libertyland should also be closed. If someone can be convinced to come in and open a new, modest amusement park, that's great. Not sure there's enough of an audience for one.

I'm sympathetic to plans to turn the Fairgrounds into athletic space. It kinda pains me to see huge areas marked out exclusively as ball fields and soccer grounds, but if a plan can be made that also leaves large areas of open space, with walking, jogging trails along the perimeter and lots of new trees, I'd sign on tomorrow. Think of a cross between East High's western athletic areas and Overton Park.

I agree with you on Fairview. And it's not that I think there's a "plan" as far as allowing decrepitude to overtake the Fairgrounds, but you only have to look around town over the past twenty years to see how it's happened over and over and over again. The City spends money on the political fire du jour and lets slide any number of basic maintenance issues. That's bad governance. It's understandable that contemporary politicians cater to the "me, now" crowd but it's still disheartening to think we no longer live in a time of greatness.

What I don't want to see on the public lands of the Fairgrounds is up-scale housing (or housing of any sort), commercial or office space, or any kind of retail. As the city grows and gets denser, such land is beyond a premium -- it's a public treasure of inestimable value. Allowing little bits to be cut off is death by slow cuts and sets a very bad precedent. Same thing comes up every so often with Overton Park.

That's the problem the Promenade faces. Several buildings have been built in various edges and corners over the decades. Just a little here and there; nothing truly intrusive! "It's necessary." It's like saying something isn't wrong since we've been doing it all along. That's not true.

The precedent is set and now the buildings aren't seen as intrusions or barnacles, but as immovable and permanent. Not so! If the political will isn't there to remove them, then we can at least stop further intrusions right here and now. That's what I think should be done. I think we should idealise the Promenade, the same way New Yorkers idealise Times Square or Central Park. It should be held up so that a kind of reverence is encouraged.

I am, at heart, a traditionalist (obviously) and a preservationist. We are who we are because of who we were. Our ancestors may have been imperfect, but they laid the foundation that makes it possible for us to do better. So, I hate to just see the past paved over for little or no good reason. On the other hand, I think some of those old towers downtown are just going to sit there forever, thanks to a slack-ish real estate market and especially some onerous retro-fitting laws (and technological needs). It may simply be that the city will have to be willing to pay demolition for some of them if we can find potential buyers who will rebuild on the lots. I hate it, I do, but it may be the only way out of that cul de sac.

As for my three things to change downtown? Well, let's assume a magic wand, OK?

1. Get rid of all the commissions and corporations like CCC and RDC, etc. Create a single Office of Downtown Planning directly under the Mayor, answerable to him and then the City Council.

2. Use eminent domain (carefully!) to create some properties where public parking (or privatised public parking) can be built. Parking downtown is a joke and to just keep packing in more events and buildings for them is ludicrous. Memphians have to use cars; deal with it. We need more space for them, rather than forced-pedestrian fantasies.

3. Explore ways to make the western boundary of downtown, at Danny Thomas, less a barrier and definer. South Main is doing fine. The Pinch District was doing well until the knife in the Pyramid killed it, too. Explore ways to use the under-bridge parking lots there as smaller lots tied to new buildings. The Uptown remodelling will catch up the area one day, as will new tenants for the Pyramid; it will just take a while.

4. Speaking of the Silver Snuff Box, I think the City may, again, just have to suck it up and take over the debt so someone will take it over. It's a skyline trademark (like the TA Tower in SF, the Arch in St. Louis, the Space Needle in Seattle) and should be kept. Folks like you may just have to accept that it becomes something attractive to the lumpen-middle class types. Getting it active again just helps the Pinch and surrounding areas.

5. Go ahead and eventually dig up the Main Street Mall. Make it just Main Street again, with traffic, street parking and garages. No better way to get people to come!

6. Build up Mud Island (and keep the name!) with restaurants and nightlife, with large pedestrian bridges back to the downtown. Keep the amphitheater and let someone who can start booking it. And to hell with the FedEx Forum's "first refusal" clause. Force the next owners (soon come!) to take the new deal. Or suck it. Make the river itself a destination and tourist spot, not Beale Street.

7. Boot Elkington and Performa from Beale Street. Let it go private and to individual business owners. Maybe have a sub-office of Downtown Planning with a Beale Street focus to set some broad boundaries. Frankly, an open-air drunk tank is not a public benefit. It's not "New Orleans-esque," just sad and smelly. I think Sherman W. can offer some really good ideas here.

Jeez. That's seven, not three, isn't it? LOL. Let me add a last one: Change to a strong City Council / weak mayor system. Double the number of districts and make the mayor the administrative arm of the Council. That's a hard sell to black Memphis but I think that system is better for a "city of neighborhoods" like Memphis.

And now I'm off to bed! SMC, a pleasure as always.

Smart City Consulting said...


You always bring a fresh perspective and provoke thought on these issues. Thanks for taking the time to write them up. And thanks for the bonus ideas.

Do you mind if I move the comment up to a daily post, or if you are thinking about posting on your own blog, we'll refer people there to discuss your suggestions? People ought to be thinking about these issues, and you crystallize the major ones so well.

Smart City Consulting said...


I think the blogs have influence far beyond anyone's perceptions. We can tell by things that show up in media accounts, that motivate political positions and actions, etc. In the end, we - and we bet, you - aren't trying to reach thousands, but the right hundreds.

Keep the faith.

mike said...

Oh, I have faith, but I know the realities, too. On the other hand, you are correct that the "right" people read Memphis blogs. When I was more active I was very surprised by the media folks who dropped by, and even got a call one Sunday from Gale Jones Carson herself wanting to talk.

Please feel free to use my comments here as you wish. I'm curious to see what you make of them.

Smart City Consulting said...

Thanks, Mike, stay tuned.

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