I Want a Steak the Size of a Toilet Seat

Warning: I’m a bit under the weather today and can’t seem to get my head right, so this post may swerve a bit.

I’m not one to gloat (I am actually, but this is not the place), but after several weeks of writing about college football, I feel the need to pay it off. I will tread the middle ground and say that I had the kind of weekend that makes the next 365 days livable. The bigger picture, however, is dependent upon voters and computers…naturally, the way sports championships should be decided, no?

Speaking of Auburn, as we were returning from the Loveliest Village on the Plains a few weeks ago, I heard an excellent radio interview on NPR. It was with a writer who compiled a book of  interviews with chefs. The chefs were asked to describe their ideal last meal. Mind you, I have not read the book, can’t remember the author’s name and I’m too lazy to do that research. So this is based on memory. (Ok, I got off my bum and did the research: My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals by Melanie Dunea)

In the radio interview, the author explained that she found essentially two camps of responses from the chefs she spoke with. The first was the group of chefs who identified their favorite opulent and luxurious ingredients such as fois gras, truffles, caviar, lobster, jamon iberico, and the like. The second camp were chefs who identified meals that had some form of nostalgic comfort – their mother’s chicken soup, their grandmother’s chocolate cake, or some other remembered comfort food. I’m not a psychologist or sociologist, but I bet that some smart person out there has a model that describes why a group like that divides itself in such a way. Of course, the author has simplified her analysis to a black and white accounting. I suspect the reality is a range of grey shades in between the two polar extremes, but for my purposes, I’m going to roll with it.

Cooking is a creative process, and it is about design (some people take it more seriously than others). I think design philosophy is transferable across creative disciplines. Philosophies of cooking could be applied to city building, and vice versa. Following that line, lets borrow the authors question and apply to the built environment- if you have one site to design anything you wanted, what would you do? I imagine that architects would fall into essentially the same camps as the chefs. One group would attempt to take the latest technologies and materials and create a great monument to themselves for humanity. Another group would choose to honor time-tested and proven materials, forms and orders to express their view of the human condition.

The Urban Design Challenge has given me pause to consider what I might do given a blank slate. In a sense the Urban Design Challenge has posited an equivalent question to architects and planners. Consider the sites to be the question, the blank slate, the opportunity to do as one sees fit, the “last meal”. Would I design my version of urban foie gras, or a building that channels Baba’s collard greens? I will disappoint you if you think I’m going to make the case that one approach is better than another. If you have seen any of my couple of works, however, you might be able to guess which way I would likely lean. Despite my bent toward expression that speaks to our time, having considered the question in this light has softened my view to some degree.

Ok, that was the kind and gentle C.Rush. The reality is that the question is a false one. How many of those chefs will actually get to eat their “last meal” for their last meal. Even if they did, no matter how expertly prepared, would it actually live up to the expectations of a “last meal”? This is not, however, a pointless exercise. In answering the question the chefs are giving us an insight into what makes them a great designer and what makes them tick as a person. In answering that same question, it gives those of us who are not genius chefs an opportunity to go through the process and to think about what we would do in their shoes.

That is one of the great values of the Urban Design Challenge. It is great to see what our city’s fantastically talented designers propose for each of the sites. I am hopeful, however, that each of the challenges give the layperson or interested observer pause to think about the city in those terms. To think about what they would do on each of those sites. Hopefully, after thinking about those things, they will join in the civic dialogue concerning how we should build our downtown in the future and contribute their ideas.

In case you were wondering:
-Veloute of cauliflower with scallop crudo

-Steamed royal red shrimp
-Seared foie gras with a mascarpone crepe
-Crispy pig’s foot with quail eggs and white truffle
-A dry-aged Wagyu strip
-A slice of New York Cheesecake
(but you can’t hold me to this one, it has changed 6 times over the course of the day)

In case you were wondering 2.0:
My prediction: 35-13 
Final score: 42-14


I-Earn Bowl Week Is Upon Us!

Happier than a pig in slop... happier than a coondog on a bare leg... happier than a possum at pokeberry time…This is Iron Bowl week (If you do not know what the Iron Bowl is, I can't help you, go google it or something). This morning, my six-year-old Spence wrote that he was excited for the "I Earn Bol"- so he has either already attained the spelling proficiency of an Awbun grad, or is offering commentary on Cam Newton. Iron Bowl notwithstanding, this week's post is not about the future. I will, however,  offer my prediction: Alabama 35 Awbun 13.

What a weekend! The best analogy I can come up with is being in “the zone”. In earlier days when basketball was life, there was no better feeling than those fleeting moments where you know you can’t miss. Things are simply breaking your way. Of course, you can’t control when this happens, or for how long, you just appreciate it when it occurs.

The weekend looked innocent enough. I had a bunch of work to get done in advance of the holiday, Alabama and Auburn were both playing FCS opponents, and we happen to be in a lull in the youth sports schedule. I expected nothing more than a little work, a little playing in the park, a little cooking, and a little relaxation. Well friends, I got all that and more.

Going into this weekend of college football, my beloved Crimson Tide sat third in the BCS. Were we to have any chance of playing for a national championship we were going to need some help. #2 Oklahoma State needed to lose, and the best chance for that would be on the 27th when they face #5 Oklahoma. Were Oklahoma to win that game, however, a number of voters may have been convinced that they were a better one-loss team than ‘Bama. Out west, there was a great deal of hype surrounding #4 Oregon- like ‘Bama, a team with only one loss, and that to #1 LSU.

The weekend started with a bang on Friday. That morning I discovered that Noel (yes, that Noel) was playing the Tabernacle in Atlanta. I grabbed some tickets- 5th row center, thank you very much. (btw, I bought a few extra, if you want to roll with us, give me a shout). The next little jewel came at my Friday afternoon board meeting at the Cherry Street office. Bathed in a single golden beam of light ,front and center in the humidor, I found a box of the exceedingly rare Arturo Fuente Anejo. The #77, AKA “the Shark” was sublime. Content that I had a good day, I returned home and hit the bed. As a lark, I figured I would tune in to see just how good Oklahoma State was. Turns out, not very. The Iowa State Cyclones pulled the massive upset and cracked the door for an Alabama-LSU rematch.

Several weeks ago, on a trip to Iowa, after failing to find an
Ottumwa Bulldog shirt for the boy, I settled on an
Iowa State number. Coincidence? I think not.

Saturday, the hits kept on coming. Corso got the day off to a rousing start by dropping an F-bomb on College GameDay. ‘Bama rolled GA Southern. Auburn edged Samford. USC held on to defeat Oregon (yes, I was actually rooting for Lane Kiffin), and finally, Baylor took down Oklahoma. Closer to home, Tennessee pulled a massive upset by nipping Vanderbilt in OT (not neccesarily a good thing, it’s just fun to note that the Vols were an underdog to the ‘Dores).

At midnight, I received what was by far the best news of all. The world has been blessed with another Rushing male. My nephew, Andrew Rushing, Jr., was born in Colorado at about 11pm. He surprised us all by arriving a couple of months early. The little guy is only about 3lbs, but his lungs are developed enough for him to breathe on his own. Both mother and son are recovering and doing well. We are all incredibly excited. Now, I have to figure out how to get them to move back down South. I’m sure Aspen is nice, but c’mon man…

The newest member of the clan. Welcome, little Drew.

Sunday was spent basking in the glow of good fortune. In the afternoon, I dipped out for another celebratory Anejo. When I got home, I came a across a forgotten pound of royal red shrimp in the freezer. I then settled in for the release of the BCS standings. Those standings showed that the stage is set for an LSU-Alabama rematch, and the top three teams in the nation are all from the Western Division of the SEC. What a life.

That all of this is occurring around Thanksgiving is not lost on me. I am very thankful for everything I have been blessed with in this life. I don’t deserve half of it. Along those lines, we should all be thankful for the things our city is blessed with. It is useful to critique and question, but every now and then it’s also useful to take a step back and appreciate the things we have. Toward that end, I am thankful for*:

-the mountains. We are blessed with one of the most beautiful and liveable physical settings in the South. The mountains are the pillars of this setting, I find them reassuring and inspiring.
-the connectivity our city has to the nation and region.
-the river. Our collective birthplace and the engine for a century of our growth.
-the portions of the downtown street grid that are still intact. This is our inherited footprint, the fine scale makes pedestrianism and human-scaled commerce possible.
-the quantity and quality of parks and plazas downtown.
-our buildings. Our forebears have blessed us with a number of rich historic structures that express our shared history. Our contemporaries have blessed us with modern works that express the technology and philosophy of our time. Our downtown has a number of sites that will be suitable for future generations to build, thereby expressing themselves and addressing their needs.
-the generosity of spirit exhibited by our public realm.
-Chattanoogans. We are all indebted to the generations that established and grew the city. We are indebted to the people who engineered and executed the revival of downtown. I am grateful for the crop of young people who appear to be actively engaged in making our city a better place. I am thankful for the Spencers, Sterns, and little Drews who will one day take up the mantle of civic stewardship.

It is one thing to be cognizant of the things we have been blessed with. It is quite another to respect those blessings by working to nurture and maintain them. The important thing to remember is that these things can be fragile and fleeting. If I don’t keep an eye on the mail, I might miss my tickets to see Noel. If Alabama doesn’t win the Iron Bowl this week, all of the serendipitous results of the weekend will be for naught. If I don’t go immediately back to CBC and buy the rest of the Anejos, I may never see one again. If the doctor’s don’t attend to the needs of little Drew, there may be long-term consequences. If we are not active stewards of the blessings our city has received, they will be lost to future generations.

In James, the Bible says that faith without deeds is dead. I suppose one could also say that blessings without stewardship are lost.

*I'm sure I will have missed something about the city that I'm thankful for. Please feel free to comment and point out anything that I let slip.


Jackin' for Streets

One of the great joys of fatherhood is getting to watch my boys’ movies guilt-free. The same movies…over…and over…and over. There is nary a Pixar product that I can’t recite word for word in my sleep. One of their faves is Shrek. There are many memorable quotes, but this passage is one that is habitually stuck in my head:

Shrek: Ogres are like onions! 

Donkey: They stink? 

Shrek: Yes... No! 

Donkey: Oh, they make you cry? 

Shrek: No! 

Donkey: Oh, you leave 'em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin' little white hairs... 

Shrek: NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.

When I get involved in anything that has levels of complexity, Donkey springs, unsummoned, into mind. Clearly, a city falls into the category of a multi-layered entity for which the onion simile is apt (including Donkey’s observation of smell). As good as the onion simile is, it’s not as good as the one that my mentor/friend/foil offered when he said:

“Cities, like forests are in a constant state of renewal. While forests recycle in rhythm with natural laws, the city is recycled by the collective will & conscience of its citizens.”

Sorry 'Cube, there's only one OG of urban design in this pic...
That quote has stuck with me since the first time I heard in back in ’99. It is a perfect description of many different aspects of the city. In fact, that is my “go-to” answer if I’m ever stumped during an interview or presentation. Reciting the quote gives one enough time to process some kind of answer and the forest simile is broad enough for one to take an answer in virtually any direction. If you hear me on the radio and I bust out the forest quote, you know I’m vamping...(oh no! I’ve said too much…)

One of the more obvious analogies would be that a building is to a city as a tree is to a forest. In a forest a tree progresses from seed to seedling to growing tree to mature tree to death. In a city, a building moves from concept through design to development and construction to use to demolition. Of course, that analogy is not perfect. Buildings are not naturally occurring things. Humans, of course, create them. Humans that have the ability to think and adapt and change. When a building outlives its original purpose, it is not doomed to die. We have the ability to extend the life of buildings by adapting them for uses other than what were originally intended. As long as maintenance is addressed, this can go on for centuries. Eventually, when the building’s useful lifespan has concluded, it has the potential to provide its resources for other projects, and can in essence continue to live on.

As far as sites go, land was here before the city and will be here long after we have passed. Protecting and maintaining our inherited building stock is a vitally important. However, a healthy city needs sites for new growth. When a majestic tree dies, it is in some sense sad. The silver lining is that the space is now available for a new tree to grow and thrive, and the nutrients that the dead tree contained will be released to nourish other elements of the forest.

The forest simile is nice, it’s a good way of comforting yourself when somebody builds a bad building, or the traffic engineers screw something else up. No matter what happens, the city will continue to evolve and perhaps in the future our children will be able to rectify what we F’ed up. The focus of this blog, however, has been the second part of that quote: the mechanism by which the city is recycled – the collective will and conscience of the city. The city will change, whether or not we choose to address that fact. That is why processes like River City Company’s Urban Design Challenge and the Urban Design Forum are so vitally important. Our collective will and conscience cannot be effectively expressed if there is no mechanism to channel it.

Hopefully, in the future, this lot can fix what we're
letting the traffic engineers screw up now.

There is no finished state for a city. There is no ultimate goal of having “arrived”. There is no ideal state. The city is a constantly evolving entity. It can grow or it can die. How the city changes and evolves is entirely up to us while we're here.


Let's Get the Band Back Together!

Dear Santa: I have tried to be a good boy this year. Pease bring me a quarterback that can throw downfield and a kicker who is worth a damn. I could also use a loss by both OSU and Stanford between now and your appointed rounds.

This is an exciting week for C.Rush – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds eponymous debut album is released in the U.S. on Tuesday (if you want to melt your ear-holes with his sheer brilliance before then, go here).  Noel was once the force behind my favorite band, Oasis. Is Oasis as important as the Beatles or as good as say Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin? Probably not. My philosophy, however, is that a person’s favorite band should be their contemporary. Oasis hit the scene in ‘94, during my formative adult years. Songs like Supersonic, Morning Glory, Wonderwall, Acquiesce and D’you Know What I Mean formed the soundtrack of my 20’s. Oasis is essentially two brothers- Liam and Noel Gallagher- and a changing cast of a backup band. The brothers were renowned for their rock star lifestyle and for constantly fighting with one another. They produced nine albums from 1994 through 2010. Last year, the band split up…again…for real this time.

It took D and I three days in the hospital to realize
that this one's name was not Noel.

Beyond the fact that I loved the music, I also related to their sibling dynamic. Noel is the older brother, the lead guitar player, the driving force behind the band and the outspoken creative genius. Liam is the vain, bratty, lead singer with the recognizable voice. Being a creative, driven older brother with a bratty, vain younger brother (that I fought with tooth and nail until I went to college) I feel a strong connection Noel. On two occasions I almost named a child after him. Both of those occasions also happened to be new album release weeks for Oasis.

My brother swears I Photoshopped this image to put him
in a doofy pose and make him appear 2" shorter. As usual,
he is wrong. To his eternal credit, he did not try to fight me
on my wedding day

I’ve done a lot in my lifetime and I like to think of myself as a renaissance man (except for not as much of an ass as someone who actually thinks of himself as a renaissance man). But no one man can do it all. Of the things I probably won’t get around to in this lifetime, the one that I most wish I could have done is to play in a band. Not for the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll aspect (done that), but to be part of that type of creative process. When I listen to my favorite bands* like the Beatles, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, or Oasis I can’t help but think about the how those guys went through process of the melding of their various skills to produce art. I am drawn to collaborating with people who share common creative ground. I dig the creative tension that exists when groups of artists come together. The immediacy of being able to play a song and hear it in real time is something I find fascinating. How different from the months and years it takes to render design in the built environment.

Design as a team sport, however, has always been something of a mystery to me. I am all about cooperation, collaboration and teamwork. I have found, however, that design by committee is often a recipe for disaster. In the past I have typically subscribed to the theory that a single clear concept developed by an individual is stronger than a concept that has to have a common denominator. I’m starting to come around to the concept that designing as part of a group may have the potential to produce better results than a concept developed by a single person. However, the group design process is exponentially more difficult. I’m still working myself through that.

Design aside, it is undeniable that a strong team is the only way to build a healthy city. One of the hallmarks of our civic renaissance was the strong ethic of partnership and collaboration. Building a city is hard work. No one can do it alone. The only way forward is to find common ground, get in the boat and starting rowing. That concept has been utterly lost and abandoned in the past few years. The tenor changed and the band broke up. All of the players (or band members to keep up the analogy) are still here- some of them still jam together (the analogy rolls on). No one stood up to keep us together, so we’ve split up and have been putting out solo albums for the past few years. And as we all know, solo efforts rarely measure up to the band (don’t dispute this or I’ll have to bring up Ram, Unfinished Music #1, and Pictures at Eleven).

Despite being the older brother, this one was
  named Noel for only about 15 minutes.

Anyone involved with city building knows that we have been and will likely continue to face difficult times. The only way we will be able to grow and improve is by finding a way to work together again. There is no way that any one group, person or institution can go it alone. Of course, things are different now, and the same partnerships and coalitions that were successful in the 90’s are likely to be irrelevant now. We need to find a way to tailor new partnerships to address our new challenges. These things are easier said than done, but the starting point is a strong civic dialogue for an honest assessment of where we are and where we want to be. Let’s get the band back together.

*In case you were wondering, in those musical fantasies, I imagine myself in John’s position with the Beatles, taking over Colin Greenwood’s bass for Radiohead (and writing a few algorithms on the side), playing Noel’s lead guitar for Oasis, and rockin’ Bonham’s drums for Zeppelin.