Category Archives: Memphis

Tactical urbanism, the Memphis way

“Memphians don’t always do well with rules,” explains lawyer and city planner Tommy Pacello. Memphis-raised, he left for college and was drawn back to join the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, an effort funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies to generate neighborhood economic vitality and reduce gun violence among youth. “The city’s got this grit and soul and texture to it that comes from being a river town, I think. It’s part of our DNA as Memphians.”

But that grit and that soul, in a city that faces its share of systemic challenges, haven’t always found creative outlets. “For many years,” says Pacello, “we had lived in an environment where people felt somewhat stifled. Felt they had to wait on other people to do things for us, to find the silver bullet.” For a community to see itself as dependent on slow-moving government, or on anyone, for positive change, safety, and cohesiveness, is deeply demoralizing. Something had to give.

Continue reading Tactical urbanism, the Memphis way

Awesome Project: STREETS Ministries uses data to diversify funding streams

For faith-based community organizations, fundraising can pose particular opportunities and challenges. Megan Klein, Chief Development & Communications Officer at STREETS Ministries in Memphis, puts it this way: “It’s heaven and hell all together.”

Continue reading Awesome Project: STREETS Ministries uses data to diversify funding streams

AWESOME PROJECT: The Heights Line, Memphis

At a community meeting recently, in a Memphis neighborhood called The Heights, a white woman named Linda Burgess – a resident since the 70s – stood up and said that she’d had an answer to prayer. She’d seen her African American, Hispanic, and Caucasian friends and neighbors joining hands in service of their community. They were working together on the Heights Line project: a pop-up public green space on National Street, designed to bring people together and to connect the historically overlooked neighborhood to exciting nearby developments. “Linda said that we’ve been needing this in our community,” explains Jared Myers, Executive Director of The Heights Community Development Corporation (CDC).

Continue reading AWESOME PROJECT: The Heights Line, Memphis

AWESOME PROJECT: Memphis nonprofit needs truck to transport restaurant compost to farms

Did you know that the average restaurant meal produces one and a half pounds of food waste? Much of it – think potato peels, broccoli stems, eggshells, or food the restaurant ordered but never got to send to a table – is pre-consumer waste, and some of it – like that last quarter sandwich you couldn’t finish – is post-consumer.

Until a little restaurant-to-farm composting nonprofit called Project Green Fork (PGF) was piloted in 2008, all that food waste from Memphis restaurants was going straight into landfills. That’s a whole lot of space taken up in landfills, a whole lot of methane dumped into the atmosphere (food produces methane, a greenhouse gas, as it rots), and a whole lot of potential fresh new soil going down the tubes. Imagine Memphis-area farmers paying for fertilizer and soil, when they could have been getting it for free all that time!

Support this project!


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clean green Memphis pride

Audra Farmer, who’s had a foot in the restaurant biz since she was 19, was a bartender at a restaurant called Tsunami when it became the pilot PGF location in 2008, so she got to see her colleagues in the kitchen switch from one bin – just trash – to three: trash, recycling, and organic food scraps. It wasn’t as difficult a switch as you might have thought, and the results made her proud of PGF, of Tsunami, and of Memphis.

“It was an organization I was interested in, and proud to have here in Memphis, since we don’t have commercial recycling in the city of Memphis. We’re pretty far behind, honestly. It’s small organizations and nonprofits that make up the difference, so I’m proud to be a part of that.”

Today, PGF is at 57 certified restaurants and counting. Just recently, they added three new ones. PGF restaurants collect all of pre-consumer food waste in a special bin, as well as recycle bottles and cans , conduct energy audits, cut out Styrofoam, and take good, non-toxic care of their land, to prevent pollutants from going into the Memphis stormwater drain network.

“It’s a massive amount of waste associated with dining out,” explains Farmer. “But it doesn’t have to be. PGF has a big following. We have diners that only dine at PGF-certified restaurants, because they stand up for what we’re doing.” As for Farmer, she’s become more and more invested in PGF over the years, too. These days, she works as PGF Project Manager, and also goes into local school systems as an environmental educator for PGF’s parent organization, Clean Memphis.


Food scraps

when you just need a bigger boat

This all sounds pretty great, right? So what’s the problem? Well, the problem is that PGF grew almost too fast for its own good! “We wound up with all this compost,” explains Farmer, “and we kind of overwhelmed the local farm that we were delivering to. It was almost to the point that we didn’t know what to do. We were almost panicking. We didn’t want to ask the restaurants to stop. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know once you tell your staff ‘you don’t have to do this anymore,’ it’s gonna be pretty hard to get them to go back to doing it.”

Girls Inc., whose farm outside the city highlights the work of girls and women in agriculture, stepped up to the plate, and within a week had started taking all of PGF’s compost. Get Green Recycleworks also opted in; they pick up the compost, as well as plastic and metal recyclables from all PGF restaurants. “Those two organizations are our champions right now,” says Farmer, “along with our restaurants, who do these practices every day.”



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The only remaining volume problem today is that PGF needs a bigger dump trailer to transport all that precious compost. They’re raising money right now via ioby to pay for a new dump trailer to hook up to their truck. “We just need a bigger boat,” says Farmer. “We outgrew our tiny little trailer that could, so this is going to make it easier, more manageable, more efficient  to get food waste to the farm. Right now we have to do three to four dumps per day, and we’re growing every day.”


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what you can do

  1. Visit a PGF restaurant.
  2. Attend Living Local festival on June 8
  3. Donate towards the new dump trailer, by donating to their ioby campaign.


Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Have a great idea, but feel like you need a blueprint to get you started? Or a recipe to follow? NO PROBLEMO! We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.


Q&A: Nashville’s Chief Data Officer on the parallels between crowdfunding and the Open Data movement

Three-time ioby Leader Robyn Mace  raised  the money, buy-in, and manpower needed to convert a neglected lot adjacent to her family’s Memphis home into a flood-ready  rain garden, butterfly sanctuary, and community space. That grassroots work – with its ups and downs – has informed the groundbreaking work she does on open data, in her day job as Nashville’s Chief Data Officer.

The Open Data movement is a relatively new one. Born about a decade ago, it first took hold in big cities like New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Philly, and Boston, and is spreading beyond. City officials who specialize in open data are interested in making public data just that – public. Available for all to see and to use. They’re interested in the democratization of city data, seeking to engage as many people as possible, and ensure complete digital inclusion. We talked with Mace about some of the sweet spots where crowdfunding and open data overlap.


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[Photo by Jamie Harmon]


How did your ioby project, the Evergreen Rain Garden, come about?

Well, I had thought about it for a long time, because my family owns that house, and everyone in the neighborhood blamed us for not maintaining the lot next door, even though it wasn’t ours. So when I moved there in 2013, I felt it was incumbent on me to start to address that.

When  people realize that the City owned the lot, and that there was something we could do about it, that’s when it really took off. I approached the neighborhood association, and they were instrumental in getting the sidewalks rebuilt, but we couldn’t get any kind of agreement with the City for the garden. We had offered to pay liability and get a Memorandum of Understanding with them, and basically they never followed up with us. So it left me in a position of either having to maintain a really big grass lot, or figure out an alternative. I’m a Master Gardener, and I was a member of the Garden Club, as well as I’d approached the Evergreen Historic District Association Board. The more volunteers worked in the garden, the more people were interested in supporting that work.


Did the project bring people together?

Absolutely. Instead of having an ugly lot and impassable sidewalk, now we had four beautiful garden beds, and a really pleasant and interesting landscape to walk by. You’d see people talking in the garden, or people would pull over to talk on the phone. It’s just a lovely focal point, and it’s just nice to not have it look ratty, frankly.


“The ioby project reinvigorated me, and really helped me understand the importance of civic engagement, and how residents  and municipal employees can work together”


What’s your focus, as Nashville’s Chief Data Officer, and does your experience on the ground with crowdfunding ever sneak in?

Municipal data, for the most part, is publicly owned, and the idea is that by opening the public data access, we can help citizens understand what is happening in their government. Traditionally, cities haven’t been so great at using the data that they have and collect. I think Washington DC had the first open data portal in 2006, and it’s been sort of a movement since then. So it’s about transparency and accountability but also citizen engagement, in terms of giving people  the ability to identify trends and patterns around different types of services and activities that they’re particularly interested in.

The ioby process and doing a project really helped me better understand how to use community engagement to drive good outcomes. We work closely with the civic tech community, and now  I’m  trying to think about how to engage and deploy residents  in  data visualization and analysis.


Does your crowdfunding experience make you more prone to see little pockets of opportunity, as you look at Nashville?

Absolutely. Even though I’m a city official, recognizing the important of being able to be agile and do tactical urbanism is pretty important. One of the things we learned from the development community is you don’t try to design and implement a full-blown program; what you need to do is  deploy and see what works and what doesn’t, and then try again, and try again. So it’s in some respects  introducing the ability to fail, because we’re trying different things. It’s a huge paradigm shift. And so in thinking about the ioby project, it’s  the same kind of engagement: how do we get the results we want, in small, incremental steps?

I had worked for municipal government before, and done a lot of advising and training of municipal employees. The ioby project reinvigorated me, and really helped me understand the importance of civic engagement, and how residents  and municipal employees can work together on problems that they both identified, maybe with different interests or concerns. This has made it so much easier for me to work with the civic tech community.


Why is it important for cities to be willing to experiment, fail, and try again?

The problems are so big and so complex,  you can’t expect that you can fix them right away. You have to understand that complex problems require multiple partners and complex solutions. And you don’t get to those with the same business as usual approach. It’s  a big risk politically. At the same time, it’s really important to engage citizens and have them understand the complexity of issues that are faced as well as the fiscal issues. Because once you help people understand the dynamic, they can set their own expectations and decide how much they’re going to participate. And even understanding that they have avenues and ways to participate is critically important.


For those in the crowdfunding sphere who are new to open data and want to explore, what’s a good first step?

Just go to your open data portal, and start to click around. Traditionally, governments have been taking information, keeping it in a black box, making decisions, and then providing information on demand. And Open Data basically says that public information is going to be open by default, and we’re going to share it with you, because we want you to know what’s going on, and we want you to have input into the processes, because this is your government.


Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Do you have a project in mind for your neighborhood? Hesitating on getting started, because you need a green light from city officials, and you’re loath to ask? Fear not! ioby Action Corps is here! Click over here to learn from the pros about “getting to yes” with city officials. If they did it, so can you.

Ask Action Corps: Need help getting to “yes” with city officials?

Our lunchtime webinar series, Ask Action Corps, brings the real-life challenges of resident leaders to a panel of ioby Action Corps experts who offer strategies, tools, and resources to help overcome them. At the end of each webinar, viewers can chime in with their own questions!

ioby Action Corps is our awesome network of experts who help local leaders succeed in making positive change in their neighborhoods. They’re here, they’re ready for action, and they want to help YOU implement your project! Visit for more info.


Ask Action Corps #1: Green Triangles

On December 20, 2016, Cathy Marcinko, Grant Development Coordinator at Le Bonheur Community Health and Well-Being in Memphis, and leader of The Green Triangles Project, kicked off our inaugural webinar as our first featured leader. (Full disclosure: Cathy is also an Action Corps expert!) She was joined by a panel of three Action Corps members: Justin Garrett Moore, Executive Director of the NYC Public Design Commission and an ioby board member; Tommy Pacello, President of the Memphis Medical District Collaborative; and Janet Boscarino, Executive Director of Clean Memphis, Inc.

The premise

The diverse Memphis neighborhood of Vollintine Evergreen boasts many appealing features, including lovely historic homes and the V&E Greenline, the city’s first rails-to-trails project. But residents are rallying behind one amenity that could use some sprucing up: the raised asphalt traffic triangles in the sprawling intersection of University Street and Jackson Avenue. While the triangles were likely green spaces when the area was developed in the 1920s, they’ve since been paved over, become deteriorated, and are now an eyesore in this otherwise verdant neighborhood.

Cathy is leading the charge—with VECA, the Vollintine Evergreen Community Association—to remove the asphalt from the triangles and fill them with fresh soil and drought-resistant plants. Through their Green Triangles Project ioby campaign, the group quickly raised the $6,215 they budgeted to get the project off the ground; worked with residents and a landscape architect to develop the triangles’ new design; and had their plans approved by the Memphis City Engineer’s Office. All systems go, right?


Kids walking to school2

The problem

Well, not quite. While the City Engineer did give their okay, they also sent VECA a contract to sign that included two unexpected (and major) requirements: the group would need to 1) buy commercial general liability insurance totaling about $4.5 million!, and 2) lease the land the triangles are on from the city for a year. The premiums for insurance policies like these are too hefty for VECA to afford, and the group is not prepared for the additional responsibility of becoming leaseholders.

So, panel: how can VECA persuade Memphis city government to “lighten up” on these parts of the contract so The Green Triangles Project can proceed?



The possibilities

Our Action Corps members put their heads together and offered Cathy these thoughts and suggestions:

  • This contract might have been drawn up using boilerplate text and not pertain as specifically to The Green Triangles Project as it seems. If so, the simplest way forward might be to reply to the city and say, “We like this contract generally, but think it’s a bit overbroad. Would you consider a slightly simplified version?” Then attach the contract with the insurance and lease provisions removed, and see what they say.
  • Try to get a meeting with Vollintine Evergreen’s city council rep, county commissioner, and/or other local elected officials to explain the project and ask for their support. During the meeting(s), you can cite your crowdfunding donors to prove community buy-in: “X number of residents in this district think this is a great idea—they’re even putting their own money behind it!”
  • If you have trouble scoring face time with electeds, try:
    • Approaching junior rather than more senior reps,
    • Asking local nonprofit organizations who’ve undertaken similar projects if they can help connect you with any representatives they worked with,
    • Illustrating how Green Triangles fits in with one or more existing city goals or initiatives—for example, Memphis’s Blight Elimination Program.
  • Memphis’s new Adopt-A-Park program could serve as a useful reference/precedent to bring up with city officials, as it does not require liability insurance—just a “hold harmless” waiver. In Indiana, Indianapolis’s Adopt-A-Median program has succeeded for about 20 years using similar parameters (and they post their partnership agreement online). Both of these programs could help to convince Memphis’s legal counsel that a big insurance mandate might not be necessary.
  • Have some sympathy. While this might seem like a simple project to residents, it’s part of a complex web of regulations and responsibilities that the city has to consider and is ultimately accountable for. So know that they do want to help you help your neighborhood, and help this project pave the way for other ones like it in the future. They just need to be sure all their i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed in the process.
  • Consider framing Green Triangles as a pilot or demonstration project. This can help the city see it as a low-stakes trial run of something different—not a commitment to change.
  • Look for nearby “anchor institutions” to partner with: they can be great allies. In this case, Rhodes College is right across the street from the triangles. Consider approaching them, presenting the project, and asking if they would agree to support it. “Support” could be as simple as lending their name to your list of backers, or they might be keen to help with the implementation work or ongoing maintenance efforts. You might as well go knocking and see what you find!

Watch the full Ask Action Corps webinar or sign up for our newsletter for news on   future ioby learning webinars.

AWESOME PROJECT: Soccer pub spearheads local school’s first girls’ team

This is a good year for Sheffield High, in Memphis – the school is building its very first girls’ soccer team. And about time! Memphis has a robust soccer community, with rec leagues up the wazoo for all ages, and the best soccer pub in the state of Tennessee situated right in the Cooper-Young neighborhood of the city. But while Sheffield has had a boy’s team, there never seemed to be the resources for a girls’ team. Sound unfair?

“It’s just a lack of funding,” explains Jamie Naylor, co-owner with her husband of Celtic Crossing Irish Pub and Restaurant, a  haven for Memphis soccer fans. She is spearheading an ioby campaign to cover startup costs for the team – team fees, equipment, coaching and training, and field improvements. “There’s such an imbalance. From what I understand, every sport gets a certain amount of money, and some sports get more money. There’s still such a focus on football and basketball, at least here in Memphis.”


[Celtic Crossing]


Find your natural allies

One of the super cool lessons to learn from this campaign has to do with how the person with the lightbulb idea found the right person to bring it to life. It was a Teach For America Fellow at Sheffield, actually, who initially realized that the school should have a girls’ soccer team; she did her homework, discovered that Celtic Crossing was the epicenter of the soccer community, and – though neither of Naylor’s two young children are students at Sheffield – reached out to Naylor for help.

Naylor jumped on board, bringing the idea to her over-35 women’s league, and immediately brainstorming with the larger community. Soon, her women’s league was hosting equipment drives and dropping in on Sheffield High soccer practice sessions. At the pub, she’s been asking her regulars to contribute, and they’ve been saying yes.


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[The Sheffield girls’ team practicing]


“My father got married when I was young,” Naylor explains of her early start in the sport, “and I went from being an only child – you know, father-daughter – to having three stepbrothers. So it was kind of like ‘you play sports with your brothers or you don’t have anyone to play with.’ But I was probably the most athletic, so it stuck with me.” From an early age, she took the initiative when it came to soccer. “I remember kind of wanting to play and there was a group of girls that were practicing on a soccer field near where we lived,” Naylor explains, “and I ran out to the coach and said ‘hey, can I play?’ And that’s kind of how I went from just your traditional YMCA rec league to playing in the more competitive church league, and then the more competitive club leagues.” It’s exactly the go-get-it approach she’s been taking to the Sheffield campaign.


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[These soccer fans are helping support the Sheffield girls’ love of the game]


The value of having a local business on board

Think you know die-hard sports fans? Try this on for size: it’s not unusual to see 20 soccer fans gathered in Celtic Crossing at 7am, watching a night game being played overseas. “We’re actually kind of known for our love of soccer,” Naylor says of Celtic, which her husband opened eleven years ago. It’s where they met, over fan-banter and beers. “We open up early for the English premiere League games. We consider ourselves not just the soccer bar of our neighborhood, but also the soccer bar of Tennessee. We definitely pride ourselves on being a soccer bar. I was laughing at my husband this weekend, because he’s already thinking about the World Cup. He’s like ‘ok, when are the games? The World Cup is gonna be in Russia, so if it’s a 7pm game in Russia then…’ and I’m like ‘that’s two years from now!’”

Because Naylor and her husband have built such a loyal, trusting, and passionately soccer-oriented client base, they’re in the perfect position to help raise money for Sheffield’s team. “We being husband and wife owning the bar, when you come to Celtic, it’s a very kind of neighborhood family environment. My husband and I have two children – a nine month old and an almost four year old. All of our regular customers are seeing them grow up. So they know that we’re passionate about soccer, we’re passionate about Memphis, about our neighborhood, and that we do a lot for the community, and so we wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important to us. It seems like working hard on our business pays off when we can do stuff like this.”


Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Want more Memphis? Read about how this Memphis high school started from zero and raised over $20,000 to landscape its rundown lot.


Starting something: Making change at a historic Memphis high school

Something happens, we’ve noticed, when people like us and like you – neighbors, teachers, parents, local businesses, religious institutions, local nonprofits – decide to invest time, energy, and money in our own neighborhoods. When we team up to tackle a particular problem in the community, when we roll up our sleeves and just get started, what often happens is that local authorities suddenly want to help. They want to help, even though the project previously hadn’t been on their radar. They want to help, even though they may actually have said “no” to this project last year, believing it to be not a top priority, or not doable.

It’s a little bit like magic, and we see it happen time and time again. Central High School, a predominantly African American school in urban core Midtown Memphis, is a great example. Parent Katy Leopard and her collaborators wanted the front of the school to reflect its hard-won academic excellence, and they set to work. Here’s what happened.


Central High School in 1909

[Central High School in 1909]

What’s in a facade?

“Central High School is kind of a landmark in Memphis,” explains Leopard, “but as the public schools in our urban core have been abandoned, it has stayed a really excellent school. It continues to put out really great students that go to really great colleges and get scholarships and do really well – but by the skin of its teeth.” In other words, all of the school’s money goes straight into education, with little left over for “extras” like landscaping, fresh paint, new windows.

“There was no plan by Shelby County Schools to spruce up the front of Central High School,” Leopard says. “It wasn’t on their radar. And I totally understand. It is not the most important thing by any stretch. But this particular school in the neighborhood of midtown Memphis, there are a lot of people in these historic neighborhoods that choose to send their kids to private schools or to public schools in the county instead, because there’s this perception that the inner city schools are not as good or not acceptable. So it does matter if you park in front of the school and walk up. The front needs to look like a welcoming place. It looked like a penitentiary.”


Seeing with the eyes of a visitor

The moment Leopard really knew she wanted to do something about the appearance of Central High was the moment her son, Brady, got the lead role in the school play. Thrilled and proud, she invited all kinds of family and friends to come see the play. Then she stopped to consider how the school would look to them when they actually walked up to it. It was a rude awakening.

“I don’t know if you’re like me,” says Leopard, “but when I invite people into my house is when I think: oh my god, I’ve gotta paint this, I’ve gotta do this, I’ve gotta do that. You see your home through new eyes. And I felt that way about the school.”

So she approached the school and got the green light to set up a modest $3,000 ioby campaign. The money would establish a couple small little gardens on the historic school’s grounds: a native pollinator garden that would attract butterflies and require little watering, a small arboretum with plaques listing the names of the different trees. It would be a start, at least. But when it took just 24 for that money to stream in, she and her team decided to keep going – reaching out to alums, parents, local business leaders. Before long, they’d raised over $10,000. There was real energy behind this thing.

Next thing they knew, authorities from Shelby County School District were offering to match that sum: an investment of $10,000. It was huge, both financially, and in terms of morale. “This is how this kind of thing works,” explains Leopard, “where when somebody sees ‘oh, there’s this groundswell of support with these active alums and active parents over there at Central High,’ then people want to invest in that success and momentum.”

So far, that investment from the District has already funded the expensive removal of two huge diseased trees whose big shadows had been killing the grass, a game-changing fresh coat of paint for front of the school, and more. Landscaping will begin soon. “It was so great that it all started with this little ioby project,” says Leopard, “and it just shows how things like this can bring communities together around a good cause.”


Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Sick of storing dozens of dusty old tools in your garage or basement? Wish there were a place you could go to borrow ladders, power drills, a lawnmower? Want advice from your neighbors about your latest home improvement project? Tool Libraries are back in vogue – here’s how Saint Paul, MN, is going about starting their own.