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VOL. 131 | NO. 205 | Thursday, October 13, 2016

Green Spaces Valuable Assets for Memphis, Citizens

By Don Wade

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Shelby Farms Park’s biggest project – Heart of the Park – is open. The Wolf River Greenway is on track for completion no later than 2020. Overton Park has come through the greensward controversy and is moving ahead with park enhancements.

Explore Bike Share is expected to roll out next year with 600 bikes and 60 stations within the Interstate 240 Loop. And the Mid-South Regional Greenprint is the early stages of a 25-year plan for creating 500 miles of off-road trails and 200 miles of on-road bike paths across three states, four counties and 18 other municipalities.

As these updates were provided at “Memphis Newsmakers: The Transformation of Parks & Greenways,” part of The Daily News Publishing Co. Seminar Series, on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at the Brooks Museum, presenters asked the audience some simple questions.

Had they seen the new Heart of the Park project? Have they been on the respective greenlines across the metro area? Have they visited Overton Park recently? In each case, many hands in the audience shot up.

“Certainly we can come together on the value of green space,” said John Zeanah, deputy director of the Memphis and Shelby County Division of Planning and Development and a driving force behind The Greenprint.

Zeanah was joined at the seminar by Jen Andrews, executive director of Shelby Farms Park Conservancy; Doug Carpenter, founder of DCA and Explore Bike Share; Keith Cole, executive director of Wolf River Conservancy; and Tina Sullivan, executive director of Overton Park Conservancy. Eric Barnes, publisher/CEO of The Daily News Publishing Co., served as program moderator.

What’s happening in Memphis is unique for this community, but a mirror of what is happening around the country. Carpenter said Bike Share systems are in about 115 U.S. cities. Barnes noted that business leaders in St. Louis, concerned about population exiting the city, believe a trail system is crucial for recruitment and retention.

“A lot of communities are pursuing green spaces for a competitive edge,” Zeanah said.

Carpenter, in fact, called a Bike Share system a “mandatory amenity for a contemporary city,” adding, “Bike Share is an asset about recruiting and retention.”

Connectivity is the goal of the Greenprint and was a big theme at the seminar. A Bike Share system obviously would help with that goal.

“Connecting people is very important,” Cole said, adding that a study conducted in 2015 also projected the Wolf River Greenline would produce $14 million in benefits.

If the entire Greenprint was implemented today, Zeanah said, 78 percent of the region’s population would live within one mile of a Greenprint corridor.

“We wanted equitable impact to be one of the key factors of the network,” he said.

Explore Bike Share has the same approach and the bike systems work best in areas with population density. The aim for the system here, Carpenter said, is to serve many purposes: from tourism and recreation to providing practical transportation to jobs and schools.

One audience member asked Carpenter about the risk of bike theft; Carpenter said while Bike Share systems around the country often have been asked about this concern, bike theft has proved to be a rare occurrence.

There were also questions about commercial development in proximity to parks and green spaces.

Andrews said they are mindful of everything happening around Shelby Farms Parks, but that, “It’s not up to us to determine how the edges of the park are developed.”

Sullivan stressed that development now and in the future could not be ignored, nor was it wise to just assume there would not be any risk for green spaces.

“It’s good to talk about it,” she said.

Andrews also said that while the Heart of the Park project is now open, it does not signal an ending as much as a new beginning with a different set of challenges.

“What we set out to do was build a vibrant hub for Shelby Farms Park, and to have the revenue we need to take care of the park as a nonprofit,” said Andrews.

Likewise, Cole says the Wolf River Greenline is not just about providing a nice path for recreation, noting that as new segments are built conservation will be advanced and property restored – in some cases in communities currently disconnected from their green spaces. He said the growing Greenway is also a great way to get school children, as well as adults, involved in tangible ways and thinking about long-term protection of resources.

“Environmental education has long been part of our mission,” Cole said.

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