Saturday, December 10, 2005

Riverfront Redux

In response to Thursday's posting of Carol Coletta's letter about the riverfront, we received a complaint from a regular reader. We publish his comment here, followed by Carol's reply:

LibertyLarry said...

The RDC's Riverfront Masterplan is an integrated plan to line the pockets of a few special interests loyal to King Willie.

1. The riverfront is already a signature gathering place. Memphis in May is just one example of this. It doesn't need the RDC's plan to become what it already is.

2. I believe we already have riverfront unrivaled in the nation. It can and should be improved, not destroyed. The RDC's plan would have taken us backwards and given us a subpar riverfront more like any other average city with concrete canyons rather than a public promenade with open sky.

3. The RDC's plan to finance building the skyscrappers and the Land Bridge have always been suspect to say the least. In reality, it's another boondoggle to drain city funds.

4. Pedestrian access is good ... even to Mud Island (there is a walkway above the monorail). It could be better with pedestrian walkways over the streets along the River Walk. The RDC's plan would have put a sub-division at the end of Mud Island that, along with the accompanying traffic, would have lesson pedestrian access, not increased it. Besides, without the Mud Island Park, why would anyone want to walk over there?

If Ms Coletta's letter is the best they can do a reason to justify their existence, then it is time to do away with the RDC altogther.

Carol said...

Who are these so-called “special interests” you speak of? If you know them, please name them. (A disclaimer: I could be considered one of those special interests, I suppose. I’ve owned 41 Union Ave. for 30 years.)

We have a magnificent river with one of the world’s great views across to the rural landscape of Arkansas. But the riverfront is another matter.

Thanks to investments by the City during Mayor Herenton’s Administration, we do have a bluff walk, and with leadership and persistence by the RDC, the bluff walk has been extended to the south and north.

But Tom Lee Park (not the view) is a very poor excuse for a gathering place. (You call a gathering place for the public something that costs $20 to enter, is severely damaged for months afterwards, and provides no shade or refreshments at any other time of the year? My, your standards are low.) And look at the way the bluff walk connects back to the city, particularly between Beale and Union. It is an abomination.

This nostalgia for the fire station, parking garages, and library along Front Street is laughable. I’ve looked out my window for 30 years at this landscape, and I promise you, it is nothing to be nostalgic about. It is a collection of buildings put there because the land was “free.” But the opportunity cost was incalculable. The result is a rag tag collection of buildings with no relationship to one another, no orientation to the riverfront and no practical public access. Why you resist the proposed Promenade is beyond me.

Your use of “concrete canyons” is perjorative. Let’s break it down. What do you propose instead: single family homes to make downtown like the suburbs. In fact, the subtext of much of the opposition to the master plan has been the opposition to density. But if you want a vibrant urban core that can support “live, work, play, shop” options like any real downtown, you must have density. You have to have people — and a lot of them.

The master plan was carefully crafted not only to improve public access and enjoyment of our river but also to pay for the improvements. The opposition has never — NEVER — proposed any realistic or reasonable plan to pay for any of their proposals. They are more pipe dreams of some bucolic open space better suited to the suburbs than to the city.

Finally, any one who uses the riverfront with any regularity knows the enormous difference the RDC has made in its upkeep and maintenance.

Another third rate park is not what downtown Memphis needs. (Check the use of Jeff Davis and Confederate Parks, then tell me how “attractive” they are.) The only way we are going to get first-rate public space along the riverfront is to figure out a way to pay for it with private development.

The current model for urban parks worldwide is Millennium Park in Chicago. It has set a new standard for great public space. It has an intensive set of uses that activate it year-round.

Arguing that we should simply settle for what we have takes a very small view of what Memphis can be. Let's not fall back to our very familiar position of selling ourselves short while we have the chance to transform the riverfront into a spectacular public space that enlivens and enriches our city.


turnerarch said...

Ahhh yes, a suburban downtown- that’s a goal worth shooting for. Our city could join the ranks of great urban areas such as Plano, Los Colinas, Tyson’s Corner, The Woodlands, Buckhead, Costa Mesa, and White Plains.
Interesting in that a conversation with reps. for the anti-RDC group Friends for Our Riverfront” gave several compelling arguments to support their case. One individual (a real estate sales rep.) cited her son renting an apartment along Front St. and noted that no one would live downtown if they did not have a view of the river (did someone say special interest?). Foolish me, I thought people might want to live downtown because of the urban lifestyle it offered. Walking to work, local shopping, interaction with the community on a much more intimate level and such. I was also informed that parks needed to be created so that employees inside the Morgan Keegan Tower and Falls Building could enjoy their 30 min lunch breaks during the afternoon. Apparently Confederate Park and Court Square don’t count. (See personal advice given to me by one of the reps. at bottom of page).
Did you know that there is no reason we shouldn’t have a national forest preserve downtown? According to a representative for the FFOR, there is real resentment toward the fact that downtown residents must drive all the way to Overton Park in order to enjoy a regional park. While the representatives were quick to criticize the RDC’s financing plan, they had not undertaken any serious study identifying their proposal’s costs or the willingness of the community to support the proposal. It’s also amazing how depictions of the RDC’s proposals differ wildly from the RDC website to those that the FFOR had drawn up.
Both groups seem to be telling only half-truths. However, the RDC has actually shown results with their maintenance program for the areas under their control and thus I am more willing to support their actions. If nothing else, the FFOR needs to at least attempt to be professional in this matter as opposed to the knee-jerk reaction they have displayed to date.
My real issue with the land bridge comes from the concern that locals think they can just pick and chose ideas from a plan and still expect the results to be the same. These master plans rely on all of their individual parts to be completed to realize true success.
Once again, Memphis is showing its true roots- that of an overgrown agri-town. As long as the local population continues to hold any degree of density as such a negative quality, we will not see Memphis develop as a great urban center. I could just take the advice of one of the local reps I talked to at the Cooper Young festival, “If you want to live in a real urban center, you need to move from Memphis”. Very telling about FFOR’s intentions for “our” riverfront.

Smart City Consulting said...

Thanks for the thoughtful insight into the riverfront controversy, but in the end, you make the pivotal point -- if we allow downtown development to mimic suburban development, we will have squandered downtown's best features. As you point out, it's about density, walkability and the urban grittiness that make it like no other.