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VOL. 9 | NO. 7 | Saturday, February 13, 2016

Editorial: A Call for More Conservancies

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When you look at the physical changes currently underway at Shelby Farms Park, it can be easy to miss the rise of conservancies as forces that are changing the landscape of our city.

This isn’t a landscape of high rises and subdivisions.

The Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, the Wolf River Conservancy and the Overton Park Conservancy were sold to political and elected leaders primarily as sources of stability and private funding for what are public institutions.

But they recently have emerged as substantial leaders of and voices for a different direction in Shelby County.

The areas controlled by these conservancies have positive impacts on neighborhoods and they have served to broaden the frame around the term “development” to include “community.”

The conservancies are not without controversy from the Overton Park greensward to the Shelby Farms Parkway. And that is likely to continue as elected officials pose new questions about why past decisions were made, decisions that could have unintended consequences in the future.

Such is the nature of long-term plans that cannot and probably should not be immune from at least the shadow of short-term issues.

But the conservancies remain the best guarantee of a tested consistency that is crucial to these new kinds of institutions.

They are our long view: not totally immune from the politics of the times but mostly functioning as a buffer against sudden political shifts. What has the votes to pass today doesn’t always come anywhere near meeting the test of time.

We see calls for new conservancies, notably for the Fairgrounds area, as a result of the success of these three. And it is an indication that Memphians want more long-term, well-thought-out plans for public areas.

We also think Martin Luther King Riverside Park and McKellar Lake are ripe for a conservancy of some kind or inclusion in a better-defined Riverfront Development Corp.

The RDC covers much of the city’s riverfront north of Riverside Drive. And the nature of that territory is different from the conservancies we’ve mentioned.

The RDC is due for a more definitive statement about what its role is in the riverfront’s promising future.

We think the southwest area of Memphis, including T.O Fuller State Park and the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, is overdue for a conservancy. It could be a conservancy that recognizes the property’s status as a state park along with the state funding that comes with that status. The museum also is part of the University of Memphis.

This civic treasure needs more of the local leadership it has from the university to be a constant presence the area needs to realize its potential.

The common ingredient in these successful conservancies is consistent local leadership with a long view and a willingness to listen.

The Daily 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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