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Q&A: Alex Garvin,

Yale University Urban Planning professor and Shelby Farms Park consultant

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The scenery in Shelby Farms is reminiscent of a car commercial — open road, an expanse of green space, rolling hills, buffalo. Other than in a few small areas of the park, people are a rare sight.

But park advocates are hoping to change that. Two recent decisions by the Shelby County Commission have advanced plans to transform the 4,500-acre site into a "world-class park."

Last December, the commission approved an easement that will limit development on the land for the next 50 years. Then last month, the commission voted to turn the park's management over to a private, nonprofit entity.

Though that entity has yet to be named, Alex Garvin, the consultant hired last year to create a vision for Shelby Farms Park, believes it's the first step in transforming the former Penal Farm into the county's main attraction.

— by Bianca Phillips

Flyer: What will a nonprofit bring to the park?

Garvin: The park happened almost by accident. There's never been any conscious decision made about how to operate a 4,500-acre facility. The amount of money currently spent on operating the park is less than one-tenth of what is spent on managing and operating Bryant Park in New York, which is only six-and-a-half acres.

The single most important thing about this decision is that the County Commission has decided that it's important to transform this from a set of accidental happenings over time into a real public park. They want to turn over the exclusive management of the park to a nonprofit entity that does nothing else but take care of the park.

What can be done with that much land?

In some cases, what has to be done is to take care of what's there already. The trees have just been left to grow without any attention. We need to make sure the trees are pruned, fertilized, and that they don't die.

The one thing I dream about for that park is a place where people can go swimming. There are all these lakes, but nobody can swim in any of them. I think you could do something really wonderful without spending a lot of money.

Large areas of the park are rarely used. How do you change that?

There's no circulation system to get around the park, whether you're doing that on foot or in a car or on a bicycle. There has to be better ways to get into the park and better ways to get around in it. For example, there's no bus service into the park. There's no bike system, and I think that's a priority.

What's the next step?

The next step is to create a master plan for the park. We hope to have an open competition for design of the park. We'll select a small number of teams that would come up with ideas. We'll look at them and then finally hire one of those firms to do the work.

We keep hearing comparisons to New York's Central Park. How does Shelby Farms currently compare?

Shelby Farms is 4,500 acres. Central Park is 842. So Shelby Farms is more than five times the size of Central Park.

At the moment, on a typical afternoon on a weekend, there are a quarter of a million people in Central Park. On a typical afternoon on a weekend in Shelby Farms, you may have a few thousand people. While I don't think it'll ever be the center for a quarter of a million people, surely this is a facility that could accommodate much more than it is now.

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