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Greening Memphis: What Does It Mean?

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What next? Now that two speakers in three days have drawn larger-than-expected crowds to get fired up about "greening Memphis," what does that mean?

On Saturday, parks expert Charles Jordan of Portland, Oregon, spoke to an estimated 300 people at the Memphis College of Art. And on Thursday, roughly 1,000 people turned out for a "Greening Greater Memphis" program at Memphis Botanic Gardens.

As Jordan noted, there seems to be a feeling that "something is happening in Memphis." His talk, however, was long on feel-good and short on specific recommendations and action plans. He was sponsored by the group Friends for Our Riverfront and the Sierra Club.

Both programs were attended by groups that were primarily white, middle-aged, and relatively well-to-do, although Jordan is African-American and stressed the need to makes parks and conservation part of the daily lives of both black and white children. He said as a child he often sought solitude in the woods and learned to hunt, think for himself, and love the outdoors.

A few concrete proposals and how they might fare in a "greener" Memphis:

1. The Riverfront Development Corporation’s plan to acquire the downtown promenade property and use commercial development to pay for public improvements looks harder than ever.

2. Any thought of more commercial development along the edges of Shelby Farms is a non-starter. The mere mention of it – or rather the mere mention of opposing it – drew lusty applause at both meetings.

3. Mayor Willie Herenton's stadium proposal seems out of tune. The tone of the meetings was park improvements for ordinary Memphians, not big-ticket sports facilities. Herenton spoke briefly at Thursday's meeting and said he supports the broad goals of "Greening Greater Memphis" but offered no clarification of how a stadium fits into that.

4. There was a slight push to revive the Memphis Park Commission at Saturday's meeting, where one of the secondary speakers was former park commission member and former city council member Fred Davis. The Memphis City Council, currently out of favor, is cast as the villain in this piece for supposedly usurping the commission's powers and playing politics with parks. But the Park Commission was a less-than-perfect structure too, and lost some of its power to sports authorities and the Riverfront Development Corporation.

5. Greenways and bike paths leading into Shelby Farms, possibly using railroad abandonment, seem like a logical focal point for an action plan.

6. Politicians, especially in East Memphis and Midtown, can be expected to make liberal use of the word "green" this year and next year as, first, the city, and, next, Shelby County hold general elections.

Got a comment or suggestion? Green or otherwise, feel free to post it here. — John Branston

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