Tuesday, March 10, 2009

No Greenprint Bruises Our Image Black And Blue

This commentary was posted in October, 2005, and we post it again in light of the controversy of the mistreatment of Overton Park's Greensward. In a time of economic crisis and fiscal stresses in local government, it would seem that it would be the perfect time to protect what we have:

There is an aphorism in local government that goes like this: “There’s always money for anything the mayor wants to do.”

It doesn’t matter if the deficit is growing, it doesn’t matter if the budget is out of balance and it doesn’t matter which way the winds of controversy are blowing. If a mayor wants money for a special interest or a personal priority, it’s always found.

That’s why it’s unfortunate that parkland remains a low priority in local government.

Greening Cities

Never mind that 5,387 acres of parkland in Memphis is meager when compared to our so-called peer cities.

Never mind that the Research Triangle area is launching a GreenPrint program to increase green space by 158,000 acres in the next 25 years.

Never mind that Nashville is embarking on a $151 million park expansion program.

Never mind that Atlanta is beginning development of a spectacular 22-mile linear park.

Never mind that Memphis is in a race with these cities for jobs, workers and economic growth. And never mind that parkland is one of the wisest investments that can be made by a community.

Doing Better

At a time when Memphis should be pulling out all the stops to lure people back to city neighborhoods, we send the message that we place little value on green spaces and their connection with healthy neighborhoods.

Just for the record, let’s do the numbers: Memphis spends about $32 per citizen on parks. It’s hard to find a major city that does less, and we are topped by cities ranging from Seattle to Oakland, Denver to Oklahoma City, Cincinnati to Virginia Beach. In fact, most of these spend from two to seven times more per resident.

As for parkland per 1,000 residents, Memphis is in a race to the bottom. As for parkland as a percentage of the city total area, Memphis (including Shelby Farms Park’s 4,500 acres) rate is 6 percent. By the way, the plan for the Research Triangle will raise its percentage from 8 percent to 15 percent.

While politicians look for quick fixes to budget problems, citizens are looking for long-range commitment to park improvements. And they’re willing to pay for it. In the most recent reporting year, voters in 23 states approved three-fourths of the referenda for parks – to the tune of about $1.8 billion. Since 1995, more than $25 billion in new capital funding for parks has been approved by voters.

Just The Facts

There's no reason that we can't do the same here. The Division of Parks operates on essentially the same budget that it had 30 years ago, and the public needs to create a mandate for our parks, and as we do, let's remember a few things:

• Some people are concerned that parks foster crime.

Actually, the reverse is true. According to scientists at the Human-Environment Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, parks create neighborhoods with fewer violent and property crimes and where neighbors watch out and support one another. Research found that residents near parks expressed feelings of safety more than residents lacking parkland. That’s because parks are places where the social bonds of the neighborhood are forged and a spirit of community is incubated through the social contacts on common ground. In addition, researchers compared the crime rates for apartment buildings with little or no vegetation to buildings that had just the opposite. The buildings with vegetation had roughly half as many crimes. These findings were consistent with prior studies that indicate fewer quality of life crimes occur in neighborhoods near parkland.

• Parks increase property values and produce more taxes for local government.

Chattanooga saw property values grow by 128 percent when it embarked on a parks and open space plan, producing an increase of 99 per cent in city and county property taxes. Similar increases were reported in Atlanta, Boulder, San Antonio and Philadelphia.

Quality of life is a major factor in the decisions of Knowledge Workers on where to live and work.

A survey of 1,200 technology workers showed that a high quality of life increased the attractiveness of a city by 33 percent. Other surveys, including this firm’s Memphis Talent Magnet Report and the Young and Restless Series on the movement of 25-34 year-old workers (which can be read on our website, www.smartcityconsulting.com), show that these young professional workers prefer places with diverse outdoor recreational options.

Parks are lures to homebuyers, and Memphis needs all the weapons in its arsenal to attract people back to its neighborhoods.

A survey by the National Association of Realtors reported that 65 percent of home shoppers felt that parks would seriously influence them to move to a community; 57 percent would choose a home close to a park and open space over one that is not; and homebuyers would pay 10 percent more for the privilege of living near parkland.

• Families living near parks are fitter and healthier.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an epidemic in obesity. Access to parks increases the percentage of people exercising on three or more days per week by 26 percent, the CDC says, adding that 15 percent of children are overweight. That percentage is much higher in Memphis. Children need parks now more than ever -- as alternatives to video games, television and computers.

What is the main lesson Memphis can learn from cities with excellent park systems? Leadership matters.

Visionary elected officials understand that the green infrastructure is just as important as the public works infrastructure. They understand that the natural ecosystem is critical to the health and well-being of their citizens. They insist on “green plans” that create an interconnected system of parks that produce all of the economic, quality of life, environmental and sense of community benefits that are found in vibrant cities.

Here’s hoping someone will take out a civics book that reminds them how Memphis’ once dynamic system of parks was not only a source of pride but a selling point during the city’s growth years. It can be again.


Zack Perry said...

Your perspective is dead on. Thanks for writing and driving this awakening to the city of Memphis officials.

Anonymous said...

whats in it for willie?

Zippy the giver said...

Wow! Great post again! Why is there no importance put on parkland ajacent to public school playground "areas" that have no equipment, Like Vollentine Elementary, ( an supposedly "optional" school, meaning optional if you go or not) where there is just such a case.
A park with no track and field, used by the school, no playground equipment what so ever.
The education candidate my butt!
I don't think he cares about parks, attracting people who will stay and raise their families, just employing drug dealers and other felonious appointees turning, Memphis into the "Thunderdome", or like NYC in Escape from NY!

Actions speak louder than words.
Actions leave evidence.
Actions generate statistics!

SCM, you should tally all his honor's special projects and their effects.
Let's see what his true effect has been on Memphis.

Zippy the giver said...

A park near the school mentioned could help neighborhood bonds in that area, where most children are black, overweight, and have no park to go to. If here was a running track adults could get fit and do healthy things together. Right now, the situation looks like this:
Arrest Offenses Date Address
0903004440ME n/a Vandalism/Misdemeanor 03/09/09 1400 SNOWDEN
0903002682ME Drugs/Narcotics Violation/Felony 03/05/09 GARLAND AND BROWN
0903002374ME n/a Theft from Building 03/05/09 1400 LYNDALE
0903000570ME n/a Aggravated Assault/DV 03/02/09 1700 ALASKA
0902017349ME n/a Vandalism/Misdemeanor 02/28/09 1400 SNOWDEN
0902017259ME n/a Burglary/Residential 02/28/09 900 GARLAND
0902017204ME n/a Theft of Vehicle Parts/Accessories 02/28/09 1400 VOLLINTINE
0902017125ME n/a Aggravated Assault 02/28/09 AVALON AND HENRY
0902016626ME n/a Robbery/Individual 02/27/09 800 N AVALON
0902016029ME n/a Burglary/Residential 02/26/09 1500 JACKSON
0902016025ME n/a Vandalism/Misdemeanor 02/26/09 1000 N AVALON
0902015114ME Aggravated Assault 02/24/09 SPEED AND VOLLINTINE
0902014911ME n/a Burglary/Residential 02/24/09 1500 JACKSON
0902014622ME n/a Forcible Rape 02/24/09 1000 NORTH WATKINS
0902014551ME n/a MVT/Passenger Vehicle 02/23/09 1500 JACKSON
0902014479ME n/a Shoplifting/Misdemeanor 02/23/09 1700 JACKSON
0902014307ME n/a Vandalism/Misdemeanor 02/23/09 AVALON AND VOLINTINE
0902014048ME n/a Carjacking 02/23/09 700 NORTH WILLETT
0902013964ME n/a Theft of Vehicle Parts/Accessories 02/22/09 900 NORTH WATKINS
0902013884ME n/a Burglary/Residential 02/22/09 1600 VOLLINTINE
0902013810ME n/a Simple Assault/DV 02/22/09 800 N GARLIN
0902013613ME n/a Burglary/Residential 02/21/09 1400 JACKSON
0902014228ME n/a Burglary/Business 02/20/09 800 SPEED
0902012304ME n/a Vandalism/Felony 02/19/09 800 WATKINS
0902012150ME n/a MVT/Passenger Vehicle 02/19/09 1600 VOLLINTINE
0902012125ME n/a Theft from Motor Vehicle 02/19/09 1000 STONWALL
0902012866ME n/a Simple Assault/DV 02/18/09 800 MAURY
0902011342ME n/a Theft of Vehicle Parts/Accessories 02/17/09 1000 NORTH WATKINS
0902010922ME Aggravated Assault 02/16/09 AVALON AND VOLLINTINE
0902010391ME n/a Burglary/Residential 02/15/09 1700 JACKSON AVE
0902010088ME Drugs/Narcotics Violation/Felony 02/15/09 JACKSON AND STONEWALL
0902010026ME Drugs/Narcotics Violation/Misdemeanor 02/14/09 VOLLINTINE AND AVALON
0902009858ME Drugs/Narcotics Violation/Misdemeanor 02/14/09 1500 VOLLINTINE
0902010232ME n/a Burglary/Residential 02/13/09 1500 JACKSON
0902009178ME n/a Other Theft/Non-Specific 02/13/09 800 N WILLETT
0902008153ME Drugs/Narcotics Violation/Misdemeanor 02/11/09 WATKINS AND JACKSON
0902007687ME n/a Burglary/Residential 02/10/09 900 MAURY
0902005563ME n/a Theft from Motor Vehicle 02/10/09 1400 JACKSON
0902005371ME n/a Burglary/Residential 02/09/09 800 MAURY
0902005077ME n/a Burglary/Residential 02/09/09 800 RANDLE

This is a 4 block radius near the school, there was a drive-by down the block from the school, the windows are shot out, and there are other houses within 1 square mile in the same shape, bulletholes everywhere. Gang colors galore! Joe Brown's office right in the middle of it all. Weird.

That was the daily report, rolling thirty day total, conspicuous is the latest days reports. Maybe they have their reasons.

No parks. Parkland, parks controlled land, no park on it. Billion dollars to the schools and no playgrounds, no park on the lot, tisk tisk.

Basketball goals in the middle of the streets, and parking lots, no parks. 1/2 of all houses vacant, no parks.
Don't clear any land from vacant houses for parks or community gardens though.

bob said...

In various posts including this one, you keep talking about the value of parks. Why then have you supported the intense development of the riverfront, which is mostly park land? Or have you changed your mind about that?

Anonymous said...

Right on, Smart City! Our leadership must prioritize a strong park, greenway and trail system for Memphis to TRULY advance in this area. Keep pushing, everyone! (The Overton Park debacle is a great chance to show Mayor Herenton how we feel about this issue.)

Bob, the RDC plan does not call for the intense development of existing greenspace on the riverfront. Also, the Promenade plan actually adds public space to the riverfront.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely! great Post!
I'm certain the Mayor will lie awake tonite pondering the parks issue! that'll show em!

Smart City Consulting said...


We support Beale Street Landing because the plans for the riverfront that were announced would not have decrease the overall park land. And like Overton Park, a park is nothing if it is not programmed, animated and a destination. Beale Street Landing will be a magnet for activity, much as the facilities in Overton Park are.

These days, we're actually much more convinced about the need for Beale Street Landing. Doing the same here right now is a prescription for disaster, and talent is the single greater determinant for success. We have to create a city that keeps and attracts talent. These kinds of animated places are just that.

Finally, when we look around at successful riverfronts, we're hard-pressed to find one that looks like ours now - stagnant, unaccessible, without amenities, without food, etc.


Hell of a good point on that description, SCM. Little Rock has a GREAT Riverfront! We got nuttin. Even what is there is improperly leveled and pools water on the ground. That's disgusting.

It's "Memphis in MUD" every year. Wallow piggies wallow.

Then they play that age old game of letting it get so bad you'd sell your leg to get anything better (our tax rate and structure), and then you get ripped off by low quality installation and rip-off artists in and outside city government.