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VOL. 9 | NO. 41 | Saturday, October 08, 2016

Editorial: Memphis Moving Beyond the Parks

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The word “parks” doesn’t begin to adequately describe what is currently happening in Memphis.

Overton Park and Shelby Farms Park are thriving. The transition of Kennedy Park in Raleigh at the northernmost point of the Wolf River is underway. And smaller parks remain a desired amenity in neighborhoods across the city.

Add in the greenways, greenlines, bike lanes and pedestrian connectors. Then throw in the networks to support those links with bike-sharing networks. And don’t forget about the bike racks on the front of Memphis Area Transit Authority buses or the pedestrian-friendly intersections.

There is a lot moving beneath the green canopy of trees in our city that undercuts the idea of a park as a passive experience or an island.

The Old Forest can coexist with greensward festivals. A wedding reception with a view of kayakers and runners.

This green network is starting to look like the renderings that always came before the next big civic dream but then got filed away once a very different-looking reality was built.

This is a significant shift.

Outdoors Inc. founder Joe Royer is right when he says this has been going on for a much longer period of time.

Parks were Memphis’ 20th-century political powerbase from Robert Galloway to E.H. Crump, with Rowlett Paine being known primarily as the skyscraper mayor of the 1920s.

Parks were a political currency that political leaders ultimately relied on too much to pacify voting blocks.

They should have taken in the view from one of the skyscrapers built during Paine’s tenure. Maybe they would have foreseen that beneath the canopy of trees stretching to the east Memphians were willing to challenge any political orthodoxy that they saw as a threat to these institutions.

And make no mistake, these are institutions.

Our challenge is the spread of this abundance to areas of the city that some of us might not think of as safe or inviting but which others of us call home.

There are still some who scoff at the prospect of taking the Shelby Farms Greenline all the way to its western terminus at Tillman Street in Binghampton.

There are some double takes at the Wolf River Greenway’s map that shows ambitious riverside parks on both sides of the Wolf River at Kennedy Park, which will be a major trailhead.

Building something beyond parks has not been easy.

And the conservancies and their supporters that have made much of the recent success possible have been and will continue to be questioned about the scope of their authority. Some of it will be from politicians defending what they see as their turf. But some will be a healthy reminder that inclusion must not be an afterthought in our diverse city. It must be a way of life.

We can think of no better place to see that blossom as well.

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