Thursday, March 5, 2009

The tragedy of the commons?

UPDATE: Several people have emailed to ask if this post is an early April Fool's joke. I'm sorry to say that it's no joke. City Engineering told us this is necessary to reduce flooding in the Lick Creek watershed. We have asked City Engineering to quantify the problem and share the details of their rejected alternatives with the public, so hopefully they will do that.

You know that big green field at Overton Park where y'all like to go play frisbee and soccer and ride bikes and picnic and make music and take photos and walk your dogs and fly kites?

Even when the Zoo is using half of it for overflow parking?

This big field is called "the Greensward" and it has existed since Overton Park was created in 1901.

Did you know that the City of Memphis Engineering division is planning to build a giant stormwater detention basin in the Greensward? They say it's been in the works since 2006. We found out about it last week.

The following letter describes the "Lick Creek Reroute," as it was explained to us, and states our group's opinion about this proposal. Click each page to biggify.

We also obtained two project maps from the helpful folks at City Engineering. This map shows the overall design:

The second map shows a closeup of the Greensward detention basin. The contour lines are 1-foot intervals, which means that the bottom of this proposed pit is about 17 or 18 feet below the current elevation of the Greensward along the top edge.

To help you visualize this, consider that the current elevation drop across the east-west axis of the Greensward (from Rainbow Lake to the Doughboy Memorial) is about 20 feet of gently sloping ground.

If this basin were built, a person going east across the Greensward from the base of the Doughboy hill would need to descend another 18 feet to the bottom of the basin, cross the flat bottom of the basin, then ascend 18 feet to the edge of Rainbow Lake. Eighteen feet is almost as high as a two-story building.

It's clear from this map that the Memphis Zoo will have plenty of flat space for their seasonal used-car lot. But what about the rest of us? Is there enough room in the bottom of that pit for more than one soccer game? Should the heart of our oldest City park be converted into a flood storage basin?

If you want to learn more, the Vollentine-Evergreen Community Association will host a public meeting at their headquarters, 1680 Jackson Avenue, at 6:30pm next Wednesday, March 11, to discuss the issue of Lick Creek flood control. Representatives from the City of Memphis will be on hand to answer questions.

Whether you can attend the meeting or not, your written comments may be sent to Hugh Teaford at the City of Memphis Engineering division. His email is and his address is 125 N. Main, Room 644, Memphis TN 38103.

Here are the key decision-makers to copy on your written comments:

Director Wain Gaskins
City of Memphis Engineering
125 N. Main St. Room 644
Memphis, TN 38103

Director Cindy Buchanan
City of Memphis Park Services
2599 Avery Avenue
Memphis, TN 38112

Councilman Jim Strickland
Memphis City Council, District 5
125 N. Main, Room 514
Memphis, TN 38103

Congressman Steve Cohen
U.S. Congress, District 9
167 North Main Street, Suite 369
Memphis, TN 38103
Email via his website

Please let your friends and neighbors know what's being planned on our behalf. Let the sun shine in!


Stacey Greenberg said...

It's almost like they are putting in a skateboard bowl...minus the concrete and skateboards. Oh, and filling it with rain.

I really don't like this one bit. But as long as people can still park on the grass, well, that's cool.


Anonymous said...

This is absolutely awful!! I will do all that I can to get the word out. Please keep us updated. We need the field.

Aaron said...

Wow, that will be ugly. According to my conversation with Parks , Overton Park was off limits for anything because it was protected by Park Friends and you guys. Sick em'!!!

john said...

Why can't they just use that money to, oh I don't know, just clean up and maintain the park??? What's going on with Lick Creek. I've lived in Midtown for over 30 years and we haven't taken out any flood insurance. Is someone going to be doing some development in Overton Square (or Overton PArk for that matter) that's going to dump excessive storm water runoff into Lick Creek? MAkes you wonder...
Thanks Judith!

*** said...

Naomi, I admire your group's efforts. This appears to be a giant drainage ditch, is that what it will be? I just do not understand...never saw it flood here in many years of living in Memphis. I would like to talk w/you regarding a feasibility study conducted on behalf of the historic structures at the former Libertyland park, my email is if you would please get in touch w/me there's pertinent information I wish to share.

Denise Parkinson
co-founder, Save Libertyland!

R. Meek said...

Let me play devil's advocate here. I work right beside Lick Creek and have seen it overflow on numerous occasions, on the average of two to three time a year. Nowhere in this posting can I find any mention of why the city feels it is a problem worthy of this level of intervention. Without that I simply don't have enough information to make an informed decision. I agree, at first reading it appears to be overkill on a massive scale. But information first, then and only then, if warranted, strong opposition.

Naomi Van Tol said...

Thanks for commenting, Richard. You are absolutely right that more information should be provided to the public on this issue.

As you can see at the top of this post, last week we asked City Engineering to quantify the flooding problem so citizens can make informed decisions on whether they support the Greensward detention basin or not.

So far, City Engineering has not provided this info and has offered no guarantee that the proposed detention basin in Overton Park will eliminate flooding problems along Lick Creek.

As you can see in our March 4 letter to Park Services, CPOP is not opposing the idea of flood control along Lick Creek -- we are opposing the use of public parkland for this project.

There are a number of obvious alternatives. Open detention and/or underground tanks could be located in parking lots along the creek -- the vast asphalt expanses of Overton Square between Madison and Union, for example, and Turner Dairy's unused northeast lot.

Enlarging the undersized tunnels on Lenox Bayou would help the situation for people living south of Overton Park. And north of the park in Vollentine-Evergreen, there are several floodplain tracts that are already owned by MLGW or the City.

But if it's true that there are ZERO feasible alternatives to the current proposal, City Engineering should be able to demonstrate that to the public without any problem.