There Is Space For Hope At The Zoo

December 27th, 2019

Greensward Mud Copy

(published in The Daily Memphian)

I wrote the column below four years ago. Before the first tree came down at the edge of the Greensward and the first court case was filed. Before the first demonstration and the first arrest. Before the first bad council decision and the last attempt to steal Rainbow Lake and the entire Greensward. 

Part of the column was the idea of a parking garage on the existing parking lot on Prentiss Place.

From December, 2015:

“Like most of us, I love Overton Park.

“I’ve wandered its spaces and places all my life, and much of my life has been shaped there. I discovered art there, chased kites with Dad on its greensward, climbed on its doughboy and in its trees, threw carrots to its bears, danced in its shell, and met my wife on its golf course.

“Like most of us, I love the zoo. 

“I’m a kid again when I walk through its gates, and when I watch my grandchildren watch the wonder of it. My ad agency branded and opened Once Upon A Farm, Primate Canyon and China and I felt like a kid for much of that, too.

“Like more and more of us, I hate what’s happening between them. 

“The separate public/private partnerships of the Overton Park Conservancy and the Memphis Zoological Society have brought the interest, support, people – and magic –back to our park in ways the city by itself never did and never could.

“Along the way, the zoo seems to have forgotten that it is part of a whole, and the whole damn thing is at risk for want of parking.

“We can stop federal, state and local government – going all the way to the Supreme Court – to keep an interstate and millions of cars out of Overton Park every day, but we can’t keep the zoo from turning the park’s Greensward into a parking lot and a cloud of dust every summer?

“The zoo can recreate places for tigers to roam in India, gorillas to beat their chests in Africa, grizzlies and wolves to growl in the Tetons, hippos and crocs to splash and chomp in the Zambezi – filling an ark full of money with donors two-by-two – but they can’t create a habitat for SUV’s? 

“The zoo, city and state can come together and convince China – China, people – that we’re responsible enough to have some of their precious Pandas in our care – and raise a bamboo forest of green to pay for it – but we can’t take care of cars?

“I’m not an architect or urban planner, but I know a few. One who’s both is Chooch Pickard, a 2015 candidate for city council who I hope runs again because he has interesting ideas.

“One is to put a parking structure on top of an existing parking lot. It would rise above, and perhaps go below, Prentiss Place between the zoo and McLean. The entire south side would be a living, growing green wall, hiding it from the homes backing up to it on Autumn. Each level above or below ground would accommodate 250 cars.

“And that’s just one idea. If the zoo and the city continue to do nothing, then they have no idea how much goodwill and support will continue to die along with the grass on the Greensward.”

We have some idea now.

We all know the pain we’ve gone through since, the zoo’s arrogance, the council charging around the Greensward with legal maneuvers like rhinos, forced mediation, and finally a decision to sacrifice 200 trees and 2½ acres of Greensward to end the zoo’s encroachment, a compromise to increase parking space and save green space.

Now, some of the council members who roared when the zoo told them to are gone. Now, the mayor has been elected to a second and final term and wants better solutions not forced truces. Now, zoo president Chuck Brady has retired, and new president Jim Dean seems more interested in attracting people to the zoo than frightening them.

Now, the bulldozers and chainsaws have been stopped just before the 200 trees go down and a parking deck on Prentiss Place is under consideration. 

Sometimes it seems like it takes four years to find a parking place. 

I’m a Memphian, and in a year that needs a hopeful close, it might just be found in a parking deck.

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