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VOL. 7 | NO. 26 | Saturday, June 21, 2014

Editorial: Park Situation Speaks to Bigger City Issues

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The parking controversy at Overton Park is probably the best place to begin to think more about what happens when we get our wish for more density within the parkways.

More people living and working or going to the same area or park, in this case, means change on a lot of different levels.

And where to drive and when to walk or bicycle or take a shuttle bus are decisions that rely not just on setting up the possibility for all of those options. They also rely on those options becoming habits that citizens are comfortable with.

We are still adapting from the custom that we should park as close as possible to where we are going as well as a tendency to avoid parking garages at all costs even when they are free up to 6 p.m.

With time, those tendencies will begin to change with some important conditions. We have to keep trying and not cave to the pressure from those who don’t necessarily see the value in communities that are more walkable and rideable on bicycles.

We also have to talk honestly and openly about different views on this transformation.

This isn’t putting down those who are asking valid questions about specific locations where bike lanes are being set up simply because it’s necessary to get federal repaving funds. In some places it doesn’t seem to make sense at the moment. But in many more places it does.

Without a viable public transportation system that works for those Memphians who have cars but might want to use such a system, the car culture in Memphis will not yield easily. The lack of such a transportation system has entrenched that culture deeply because it is a matter of necessity in the here and now.

It’s also a function of the city’s spread and decentralization.

The discussions in Overton Park hold the potential for changing the here and now on a broader scale that amounts to a rethinking of how Memphis works.

Zoo management isn’t the only group that will have to adjust as Overton Park changes.

As new generations discover the park and Midtown’s density grows and is reflected in park usage, there will be challenges to assumed boundaries and customs that have blurred over time and not had to be enforced or questioned before.

When the Overton Park Conservancy marked the opening this spring of the Bike Gate on the East Parkway side of the park, the symbolism of a bike gateway opening where Interstate 40 would have emerged from the park was grasped by most in the crowd.

Today it is easy to forget that the forces opposing the interstate through the park were a vocal minority for quite a while in that struggle.

The result is a park that not only has a heritage but a lesson and a legacy that extends far beyond its physical boundaries.

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