Memphis Bluff

22 thoughts on “Memphis Bluff”

    1. These are the American version of the khrushchyovka. I don’t hate them. They meet a need. They conform to all the rules. Shrug. This might be my next blog post…

  1. Does that modernist house have 2 separate garages, or is it 2 houses in a duplex?

    and so … many … roofs.

    On the plus side, at least it seems to match the Bass Pro Pyramid in the distance.

    1. Memphis had (past tense) extensive light rail and heavy rail systems for decades. It was all dismantled in the mid twentieth century. It’s recently been revived in small sections starting in downtown and inching its way toward the Medical District. I saw rolling stock downtown, but all week I looked for actual functioning trains elsewhere along the rail route (I was staying directly in front of the rails) and only saw a bus with fake glued on trolley details. I suspect the system is being ramped up incrementally.

  2. I am always fascinated by “remnant urbanism”, the ways cities and towns try to recover at least vestiges of what’s been lost, as an ecologist might restore a small remnant of a wetland, prairie or woodland. That new park facility along the river – Beale St. Landing – caught my eye. Memphis poured a pile of public money into that place.

  3. Wow, you know a place is close to bottom when even the CashAmerica Pawnshop (looks like it replaced a dairy/c-store?) closes and nothing replaces it.

  4. Thanks for the interesting perspective especially in the photos.

    Those shots looking north up the river to the Pyramid — can’t help but miss Jeff Buckley when I see those.

  5. What is that pedestal-thing with the red ball in it? A modernist house (completely out of character for the neighborhood it’s in) around here has one of those too.

    1. I love modern design when it is clean, minimal, and utilizes natural materials. Not a big fan of this strange grab bag of modern-ish materials patched together in an unintelligible way. Ironically, it’s a lot more expensive to design and build an ugly house than an attractive one in this regard. Which is fitting, because that’s a constant theme Johnny weaves into the storyline – that incremental and affordable development is more likely to have lasting aesthetic value.

      1. I thought the same thing: weird artsy design. That house reminded me of a church, oddly enough. And that row of bluff housing looked like a discordant mishmash thrown together at random. Those elegant old brick buildings are hard to top.

      1. I prefer the technical term used in the industry. Plop Art. It’s clearly expensive to manufacture, but non-religious, non-political, no nudity, no specific cultural references, and therefore unoffensive. Its sole job is to look like someone spent money on it. I have no objections. But call a spade a spade.

  6. I thought of your blog today when I decided to take a little trip down memory lane through my childhood neighborhood of Alief, Texas. It was very sad. The history of it is that it started out as a middle to upper-middle class, outside of Houston city limits, suburb with excellent schools. Then it was annexed by Houston, bus lines were extended, and low income housing built and it quickly ended new development and began to decline. If you ever get to the Houston area, check it out. It is very interesting to see the effects of politics.

    1. So your analysis is that adding public transportation and low income housing killed the desirable qualities of the area?
      That’s a common theme.

      I tend to see a combination of factors that all contribute to suburban decline. First, the suburbs are designed to be disposable. They’re at their peak when they’re new. But there’s always a new housing development, a new shopping mall, a new office park, and a new school district springing up a little farther down the highway. Money migrates to the shiny new homes with the latest bells and whistles.

      The tax code encourages rapid depreciation of commercial real estate. After about fifteen years the average strip mall is fully amortized according to the accountants. Builders have realized this and create strip malls and big box stores to last just long enough, and then the national chains move on to the next new building in a new location.

      The lower income populations migrate in after the suburb has already entered decline. But to the casual observer it looks like poor people caused the failure rather than simply filling a devalued void left behind when wealthier people moved out.

      Ironically, there are cities that hit physical limits to their horizontal growth and have no choice but to fold back in on themselves with more intensive development patterns. Los Angeles comes to mind. Then the outcry is that the introduction of light rail and new infill buildings are gentrifying old neighborhoods and driving out the poor.

      I don’t actually see the point of arguing one way or another. Things will play out as they may. Shrug.

      1. Well there may very well be more to it. Those are just two factors I remember hearing about. It is a strange area in my opinion. It didn’t follow the typical development and decline. There are open spaces of land between there and the county line. Builders literally left the area and started building new homes in the next county. Looking around it just looks like it was never finished. I don’t know what happened. I am guessing lower taxes in the next country. I left when I got married.

        1. > Builders literally left the area and started building new homes in the next county.

          Large developers’ goal isn’t to create and maintain resilient communities, it’s to move product, which in this case is houses designed and built for the currently marketed “look”, that structurally and aesthetically last perhaps one generation at best. This is especially the case an area like suburban Houston that has largely unfettered horizontal growth – why invest any more than you have to in building on land that is cheap and there is more of it one county over?

          Cities and towns that have long-term vitality and resilience are ultimately built around some sort of unique physical asset, like a port, a river convergence, a major railway intersection, and then those things draw in people who build a cultural hub, which then increases the city’s human “gravity” further. A builder can’t create the process that generates that gravity. They might play a part, but if the physical and social context isn’t right, it probably won’t happen.

          I’d guess that what you very reasonably perceived as vitality in your suburb at the time was actually the illusion of vitality, fueled by the fact that at the time, suburban working and middle class Americans had it all (good jobs, schools, healthcare, 2 kids, 2 cars, the dog, etc). But that eventually petered out, the suburb couldn’t draw in new investment, and there were hundreds of other places just like it.

            1. “The lower income populations migrate in after the suburb has already entered decline.”

              This. It’s not the Section 8 housing or the Dollar General that cause the decline, they’re the symptom. If the community was in decent shape to begin with, those uses wouldn’t be viable in the first place.

              1. to go way way back, Jane Jacobs… paraphrasing, ‘lower uses do not drive out higher uses, but higher uses do drive out lower uses. lower uses fill vacuums left by vacating higher uses’.

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