Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy...

So after three weeks of phone calls and emails to Park Services, I got to look at documents I didn't actually request. After one phone call to Ritchie Smith, I got handed the 1988 Overton Park Master Plan (both map & narrative), an exhaustive history of Overton Park, and a very informative pamphlet from an Overton Park retrospective at the Brooks. Ritchie also took the time to go through the Master Plan with me for about an hour so that I would have a good understanding of the events surrounding its creation.

My big question to Ritchie was, "Exactly how did the Zoo get those 21 acres after all?"

As Ritchie explains it, in the mid 80s the Zoo was looking to expand. (Hence the 1986 Zoo Master Plan.) But the Brooks, the College of Art, and the Shell were all looking to expand too. So the City asked Ritchie to put together a master plan for the entire park.

Clearly, they put a lot of work into it. There was a survey of over 500 people--park users and neighborhood leaders, two traffic studies, a history of the park itself, public meetings, etc.

Looking at the map, there's one prominent feature you should note. (I promise to try and digitize this map and the narrative asap!)

The Zoo expansion areas no longer include Rainbow Lake.

Ritchie noted that Rainbow Lake was a key feature of the Greensward and that it made no sense to give it to the Zoo. Additionally the main traffic pattern of the park, which at that time was a straight shot from Poplar to the Zoo, was causing major congestion. So the Master Plan includes closing off part of the main road, expanding the Greensward, and re-routing Zoo traffic to the west side of the park.

Other key features of the Master Plan were closing off numerous entrances to the park, creating a jogging trail and pedestrian friendly path around the main section of forest, mapping and marking a major loop trail through the forest, expanding parking for the Brooks and the Shell, building a playground and picnic areas near Rainbow Lake and the east Parkway pavilion, etc.

Basically, we can thank the Master Plan for all of the amenities we enjoy in the park everyday.

Okay, so back to the original question. How did the Zoo get control of the 21 acres? The Park Commission board approved the Overton Park Master Plan in 1988. Then in turn, the City Council and the mayor at the time, Dick Hackett, approved it.

Once the Overton Park Master Plan was approved by the powers that be, the Zoo put up its fence. (The Zoo was not happy about losing Rainbow Lake and didn't want to risk losing any more of its desired expansion area.)

So when asked about the clear cutting of 4 acres of old growth forest, Chuck Brady, Brian Carter, and Matt Thompson say, "It's been in the Master Plan for 20 years."

But that's not really true.

Twenty years ago they were granted access to the forest for expansion, yes. But at least as far as this plan goes (the plan that was actually approved by City Council), there are no details about what exactly is going to happen in those areas.

When we told Chuck Brady that we were upset that he cut down 4 acres of old growth forest without telling anyone, he made sure to say that twenty years ago there were plenty of public meetings in which the Zoo made their plans known.

Again, I gotta call bullshit.

The Overton Park Master Plan involved a lot of community input, but no where in the Overton Park Master Plan does it detail what will happen in the Zoo's expansion areas.

Whatever plans the Zoo made for these areas, they made in private with no input from anyone outside of their chain links, much like they do today.

And that, clear(cut)ly is a problem.

The Overton Park Master Plan and Overton Park: the Evolution of a Park Space both very plainly state the importance of the old forest and detail the community's desire to preserve it. When the Park Commission granted the expansion areas to the Zoo, it was taking a leap of faith.

From the Evolution of a Park Space (1987):

The demands for expansion of the [Memphis Zoo & Aquarium's] facility have now challenged the design community and the Park Commission to seek the necessary facilities with the least disruption to the plan and plantings of its historic park setting. It is hoped that the zoo will meet this challenge with the same inventiveness and sensitivity as it has given its own facility in the previous eighty years.

We can't afford another leap of faith.

Next up...I get my hands on the Ecological Assessment and Management Recommendations for the Overton Park Forest prepared by James M. Guldin in 1987.


gatesofmemphis said...

The Zoo's environmental destruction and insensitivity killed that hope with bulldozers.

Tear down the Fence.

Anonymous said...

Brady seems to have trouble with the truth. He would prefer that none of the zoo's plans be up for public debate as he knows this would stifle the zoo's expansion into the old forest.

Please, someone take down the fence.

Anonymous said...

can this be sent over to the CA for like an expose (sp?) or something? i am really concerned that because the fence has been up for so long, the zoo can claim ownership...has happened before...teton trek for example

Unknown said...

The Flyer would do a better expose.