Q&A: Paul Ryburn

If you've spent more than, oh, a few hours downtown, the face on this page might seem familiar. Meet Paul Ryburn: blogger, activist, and possibly downtown's best cyber cheerleader. His daily musings (paulryburn.com/blog/) on everything from the latest restaurant openings and downtown happenings to local politics and civic issues earned him a "Best Blog" award in the Memphis Flyer's 2007 "Best Of" issue. Most recently, Ryburn's posts on the panhandling problem have started discussions among civic leaders, the police department, and business owners about what can be done to get those in need the help they deserve, and how to make it harder for those making a living by panhandling. We caught up with Ryburn at his home away from home, The Flying Saucer, to meet the man behind the blog. >>>

What was the catalyst for starting Paul Ryburn's Journal?

I'd kept an online journal for a while, then in May 2004 I switched to the blog. I actually was inspired in part by another blogger, The Homeless Guy, who had a really interesting outlook. Mine is sort of modeled after his.

Isn't that a bit ironic, considering how much space you dedicate to ranting about that same issue?

Let me make one thing very clear: I do not have a problem with homeless people. I do have a problem with professional panhandlers. We're talking about people whose full-time job is begging, and some make as good a living as I do [in the tech field.] I've been looking at this situation since I moved downtown in 2002, and I see the same people working the same spots. I know many of them now, and they have homes. Seeing them get very aggressive with people, sometimes getting violent, is what inspired me to create the online forum, Handling Panhandling, where I post photos of known, aggressive panhandlers.

Has that made any impact on the situation?

Absolutely. We've got business owners in the group, as well as several police officers and members of the Center City Commission. In one instance, someone who'd been attacked was able to identify the man who hit him over the head with a pipe from a photo on my site, and an arrest was made. Later, I was asked to speak before the Center City Commission and let them know firsthand how, where, and how often this is happening.

That said, you are fiercely loyal to downtown. Why?

Hands down, this is the friendliest part of town. The people are what make it so great. I've never been anywhere where folks are so open to meeting new people. Before I moved down here, I had a handful of friends. Thanks in part to this blog, I now have at least 40 people I'd call good friends, and I meet new people every week.

How many visitors does your site get?

When I started, it was maybe 30 hits a day. In 2006, it got about 200, and now, I get about 750 on weekdays.

What's the biggest change you've seen over the last few years downtown?

The condos have made a big difference in the demographics. So many apartments have been converted to condos that affordable apartments are becoming scarcer. I want to live next to teachers and artists and other creative people, so I don't want to see them get "priced out" of the area.

You get a lot done for a guy who seems to spend so much time in bars.

Wi-fi is great, isn't it? M

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