It'll Leave A Mark

June 9th, 2016

In many ways, public-private partnerships have not just made this city more livable, they’ve saved its personality – its it – and we should remember that, and what things were like before that.

Downtown, the riverfront, the zoo, Overton Park, Soulsville, Shelby Farms, the Greenline, Overton Square, FedExForum, AutoZone Park, the Harahan Bridge Project, to name but some of those ways.

But when one is jealous of the other, feeling unappreciated when a new one gets attention, feeling its power questioned, then the hackles rise, claws come out and the beast attacks to protect its domain, perhaps destroying the whole territory.

Everyone can hear the roars from Overton Park.

As published in The Memphis Daily News, June 10, 2016, and in The Memphis News, June 11-17, 2016

Overton Park


People were hooking up, shooting up and throwing up in the woods, on benches and in cars and right in front of children on the Greensward. Like the weeds, pretty much everywhere. Like the privet, pretty much out of control. Like the shell and the rose garden and the lake and the forest and the picnic grounds and the pride of a city, pretty much left for dead.

Those were the things marking Overton Park a few years ago, marks of benign neglect at best and incompetent, indifferent stewardship at worst.

That was the Overton Park the city ran, the seedy overgrown yard of Brooks and Memphis College of Art that somebody needs to cut, the dark and scary woods you don’t want to walk through – or even near – when you hurry the kids from the car into the zoo’s walled and fenced safety to join the walled and fenced residents.

That was the Overton Park the city ran before the city gave the Overton Park Conservancy a chance to give the park back to all of us. 

That was before 50 free open-air parties a year for the whole city in a reborn Levitt Shell, before the wags and whistles of a new dog park and the wiggles and giggles of a new playground, before a grand greensward was grand again and its lake shimmering again, before the sculpted bike whimsy of the bike gate and places to ride those bikes and take those walks and have those picnics, undisturbed in an ancient forest undisturbed by privet and invasions of any kind, undisturbed by the disturbing.

I remember what the park was like before, before the City Council unanimously approved the agreement giving Overton Park Conservancy management of so much in need – 184 of the 342 acres, including every single acre of the Greensward, Rainbow Lake, Veterans Plaza, the East Parkway picnic area, the gardens, and the Old Forest State Natural Area ­– every single acre so much improved today. I was reminded by Gene Pearson in a Facebook post of what then Councilman Strickland said then, quoted in an article in The Memphis Flyer from April of 2012:

“I don’t see how anyone could have been against this. In the long run, it will save the city tax dollars, and we’ll get an improved piece of property.”

Evidently current Mayor Strickland and the current Council have forgotten all that, forgetting that the city let the park go before the Overton Park Conservancy, like they let the riverfront go before the Riverfront Development Corporation, or Downtown go before the Downtown Memphis Commission, or the zoo go before the Memphis Zoological Society…

Wait. Maybe they remember that last one.

Seems they’re now willing to give the open-to-everyone Greensward to the zoo in favor of a paid private parking lot. Seems they like that old walls and fences model over public parkland after all.

Seems that’s the mark this Council wants to make.

I’m a Memphian, and we should mark this moment.


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