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VOL. 7 | NO. 27 | Saturday, June 28, 2014

Editorial: Park Should Be Place to Unify Community

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There is something about an economic impact study of a 4,500-acre park that at first glance seems out of place.

But given the recent travels of Shelby Farms Park through our local political machinery, further proof of the park’s worth is still needed.

Some of that is understandable. Any project seeking government funding should have to make its case. And there apparently will be more discussion ahead for the Shelby Farms Parkway project that the Memphis City Council voted in June to delay for a year.

We hope state transportation leaders can give some time for a streamlined discussion of the project without risking the loss of state and federal funding or undoing the concessions the conservancy has won for the project as it stands now.

There should be time after 30 years of bureaucracy for a bit more discussion on whether the parkway is needed and in what form and its impact on the park. Unfortunately, the council’s delay didn’t have a lot to do with that issue.

Find a map of Shelby County. Find Shelby Farms Park on that map. It is the center of the county when you don’t add all of the false political boundaries that increasingly seem designed to segment us into easily manipulated political factions.

In that tradition, some of our elected leaders see a park that is land owned by the county – it was once the county penal farm – but within the city of Memphis and accessed by roadways that are the responsibility of the city of Memphis. At times during the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission debates about the park and the parkway projects, some of our elected officials have referred to the park as being “way out there” and “on the edge of the city.”

They discussed who used the park and who would use the parkway – city taxpayers, county taxpayers outside Memphis, those living in the suburban towns and cities – rich, poor, in between – black, white, Hispanic, Asian.

We are those things. But to limit us to just those elements balkanizes us.

It is easy to get the idea from these kinds of discussions that there are no public undertakings by our local governments in which there is not this intense calculation about which part of us will benefit the most.

That might be worth considering to some degree if we didn’t become stereotypes in the process. City folk or urban folk have no use for greenlines and open fields. Suburban or rural folk don’t want to venture into city terrain on their bikes. No one inside the parkways goes outside the parkways and vice versa.

It’s the same stereotypes that prompt these same elected officials to draw their own district lines with gerrymandered racial majorities when some parts of our city and county are more diverse. Who we are is outgrowing some of those we have elected.

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