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VOL. 8 | NO. 29 | Saturday, July 11, 2015

Editorial: Striking a Balance in Overton Park

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The Memphis Zoo has come a long way since a bear named Natch was chained to a tree in Overton Park a few years into the 20th century.

But that move by Robert Galloway, architect of the city’s park system, established the undeniable link between the park and the zoo.

For most of the zoo’s existence, that relationship has worked well.

And we hope it can continue to work that way because those who enjoy the zoo are the same people who enjoy Overton Park and its other institutions – the Levitt Shell, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis College of Art, the old forest and the trails.

But the zoo and those calling for an end to overflow parking on the greensward need City Hall to show some real leadership to maintain a balance in Overton Park. The balance is threatened by the city’s continued tendency to start something and then forget about it before anything meaningful is done.

How long can it take to reline the current zoo parking lot to make room for more cars? How long can it take for the city to add on-street parking along North Parkway between McLean Boulevard and East Parkway?

Both were the immediate solutions city leaders outlined earlier this year.

Once upon a time in 2014, City Hall talked of resolving the parking dispute by the end of the year. On Dec. 31, the administration punted the dispute several years into the future with a pledge to reline the zoo parking lot and on-street parking on North Parkway. But no mention of the parking garage it advocated earlier.

And there is no evidence the city is moving on the reconfiguration at anywhere near the speed that it has relined roads to create bike lanes in other parts of Midtown and the rest of the city.

The zoo is genuinely concerned about losing visitors after the shuttle bus system implemented a summer ago turned out to not be an effective alternative by itself, at least for now.

Given time and some changes the Overton Park Conservancy has planned, including a pedestrian and bicycle entrance where Cooper dead ends at Poplar, the way we use Overton Park is likely to change dramatically in five to 10 years.

Family outings to the zoo dictate the need for some kind of parking close to the zoo entrance.

What the rest of the park needs, and what the public deserves, is to know the full extent of the zoo’s plans and how those plans will further impact the rest of Overton Park, especially the part controlled, maintained and developed by the conservancy at the behest of city government.

In the interim, City Hall needs to specifically define how far the overflow parking can go on the greensward and keep the parking behind that line well north of the Doughboy statue.

The Memphis News publisher Eric Barnes is on the board of the Overton Park Conservancy. He did not participate in the writing or editing of this editorial.

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