Show Some Pride
August 11th, 2011
As a city, we have choices about what we want to look like, who we want to hang out with, and who we want to be.
If, for example, the new Playhouse On The Square is the girl or guy we want to take home and introduce to Mom and Dad, then the new CVS Pharmacy across the street is the girl in fishnet stockings working the corner and the guy asking the price.
One is ours and the other is everybody’s.
As published in The Daily News, August 12, 2011, and in The Memphis News, August 13-19, 2011
THE MEMPHIS STRIP SHOW.
Our profile, our expression. Our individuality, our creativity. Why we look like us and not like everybody else.
Take it off. Take it all off.
Irresponsible developers, shortsighted politicians and insensitive chains have taken a seat right down front – right next to cynical indifference – and they’re making it rain. Desperate property owners are up there on stage, taking the money and spinning around the pole.
On Union Avenue alone, the Hill Mansion died for a now-defunct fast food joint, and now another dances on the grave. Union Avenue Methodist gave it up for a butt-ugly drug store, and now the street’s remaining granddame, the still stately but fading Nineteenth Century Club, is offering herself to the highest bidder. Her festive neighbor, the Taliesin Ballroom, long ago went south to Taco Bell.
This is not about preservation stagnation. Holding on to things that no longer work and weren’t significant in the first place can hold up things that do work and could be significant. It’s also not about the seller’s right to sell. Declining memberships, congregations and fortunes have consequences.
This is about recognizing ourselves, what should be preserved, what should be improved, and things brand-new that will make us more than we were.
If we don’t save what should be saved, we all lose. If we don’t replace what’s leaving with something better, we’re not progressing, we’re backing up.
If we allow franchises to dictate our streetscapes we might as well conduct our design conversations through drive-through squawk boxes. If we allow strip centers to represent our architecture we might as well accept Dryvit as an architectural breakthrough. If we overrule our design review boards and sell out our overlays with exceptions for anyone who winks at us we might as well make the exception the rule.
We might as well be anywhere because we’ll look like everywhere and nowhere.
There are signs of new respect for design. Playhouse On The Square in midtown and Opera Memphis out east deserve our applause, the look of Sutherland Clinic is good for our heart, and plans for the new STCC nursing school make us feel a bit better.
There are signs of new respect for old friends. Loeb Properties’ approach to Overton Square is imaginative and sensitive and just might start the party again. The classy conversions of neighboring houses into an architectural firm and a bank look right at home on Union. Downtown, a warehouse has become a college of art, a post office a law school, and a down-and-out office tower is back in and flying high.
But ugly signs are growing.
Germantown Parkway and Goodman Road aren’t urban planning, they’re suburban train wrecks, and more and more cities seem to be on board. Big parking lots and big boxes aren’t town centers, they’re corrals and cattle barns, and guess who’s being herded inside.
Pay attention. Don’t let anybody strip you of your pride and personality.
I’m a Memphian, and we don’t want this to get any uglier.