Saturday, May 3, 2008

The men behind the curtain

Stacey, Amy and I had a very enlightening meeting yesterday with Chuck Brady, Jim Jalenak, and Brian Carter. Also in attendance was our hard-working District 5 Councilman, Jim Strickland, who chairs the Memphis City Council's Parks Committee and serves as the Council's official liaison to the Memphis Zoo.

It was clear that Mr. Brady wasn't thrilled about meeting with us, but that's understandable. He's got a PhD in zoology and knows how dangerous wild animals can be when provoked.

But we met for nearly 90 minutes and everyone behaved like grownups. Nobody yelled, cried, or got punched in the eye. No dung was flung.

We spoke frankly and asked a lot of questions, including many suggested by our readers, and the Zoo reps did provide a few definitive answers:

  • The 17-acre enclosure was established as part the Overton Park Master Plan that was approved by the City Council in 1988. The fence was erected in 1992.
  • The recent undergrowth removal along the fence line is officially part of the Memphis Zoo's efforts to control "coyote predation," but "homeless people" and "motion-sensor cameras" were also mentioned during the meeting, so draw your own conclusions on that one.
  • The Memphis Zoo does not plan to construct the Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit until about ten years from now. They intend to build a boardwalk nature trail, but no other structures.
  • The Memphis Zoo will build the Zambezi River exhibit in the area marked "Meadow" on their master plan drawing (aka, the G-spot).

  • That drawing is the only publicly available documentation of the Memphis Zoo's master plan. Mr. Brady told us there is no written component of the master plan.
Finally, we asked Mr. Brady and Mr. Jalenak if they and their governing board would consider making two major changes in the way the Memphis Zoo does business:
  1. We asked them to give the general public a meaningful voice in the future planning and development of the Memphis Zoo.
  2. We asked them to modify the Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit plan by removing the fence around the 17 acres and building a nature trail that everyone can enjoy for free. We suggested that the Memphis Zoo lead this project in partnership with Park Services, interested community groups (CPOP, Park Friends, adjoining neighborhood associations, etc.) and the general public.

So the upshot is this: The Memphis Zoo will consider our requests, and we'll meet again in a few months.

Are we witnessing the dawn of glasnost at the Memphis Zoo? Time will tell.


Anonymous said...

Well, well. Maybe they aren't such bad guys at all.

Naomi Van Tol said...

(Hi, Brian!) Have we ever said that our Zoo buddies are "bad guys"?

It doesn't really matter whether the people who decided to clearcut four acres of old growth forest are "good guys" or not.

What matters is whether those people are willing to take positive actions to atone for their terrible, horrible, no good, very bad decision -- or just keep on doing business as usual.

Anonymous said...

I say burn it all anyway! who needs the old forest when the zoo is in desperate need of more parking if you ask me!

Anonymous said...

glad you guys finally got to meet brian. did you get any pics??

jccvi said...

best post ever! now I want a bumper sticker.

Naomi Van Tol said...

ckk - Brian and his boss had their hackles up, so we didn't want to antagonize them with flashbulbs. Next time we'll try for a group hug and have Stacey lead us in a few rounds of Kumbaya.

jccvi - Just for you, baby! But don't expect it to last. I'm afraid snark is my middle name. Email me your address and I'll send you a sticker.

Anonymous said...

I want my glasnost NOW!