Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Putting People First In Overton Park's Greensward
What we need up here might be an engineer from down under.
Or at least that’s what we thought when we read about Sydney, Australia’s impressive water harvesting system.
Its efforts to create water retention facilities for water are actually under the heading of “environment” rather than “engineering” on the Sydney city government website. That starting point alone seems to engender totally different solutions – innovative, green ones that protect the city's sense of place and its natural resources – of which the Australian city is justifiably proud.
Is it possible that if our city engineers could quit seeing parkland as “free” land for their projects and instead look for new technology and innovation like Sydney, there just might be a better way to design water detention facilities in our city in the first place?
Our engineers are seemingly transfixed by a project mentality that seemingly puts everything ahead of people and place. That’s why we have a larger number of highway lanes than most cities our size, why we have a massive bridge into Shelby Farms Park that doesn’t even have bike and pedestrian lanes and why our city government has an aversion to bike lanes that almost cries out for therapeutic intervention.
Now, the same attitude and approach threatens the greensward in Overton Park as city engineering advances the idea that one of the most special public realms in Memphis will be desecrated so water can accumulate there. (Keep up with events on the new greensward blog.)
Revere Public Realm
If there was ever any doubt about what city engineering puts first, it can be seen in the plans to convert the greensward into a detention basin. It appears that the only accommodation that was made at this special public space was to ensure that there would be overflow parking for the zoo.
In fact, it seems that the only organization or people who had any voice in the development of these plans was the zoo. We can find no other organization that was consulted, including Memphis College of Art, whose students revere the patch of green across from their classrooms and studios.
But back to water detention facilities, closer to home, in Conroe, Texas, engineers are also designing a water detention system to ease rain overflow. Their answer: build it underground.
“These (underground water detention systems) are going to become more and more common in areas where land is valuable enough that developers cannot afford to put the land to use as a pond,” said a spokesman.
We only wish that we had to protect ourselves from developers trying to use our public land as an occasional pond. Here, we’re forced to protect our own public land from our own public officials.