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Group Aims to Improve the State of Memphis Parks

The Bluff City ranks 53rd in a survey of parks quality for U.S. cities.

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Last month, the Trust for Public Land released its annual Park Score survey, which analyzes parks in the 60 largest American cities by population, median park size, playgrounds per resident, access to parks by income, and a handful of other factors. The Park Score found that Minneapolis, the best city for parks, spends $213.87 per resident on its parks, while Memphis, tied for 53rd with San Antonio, spends $64.57 per resident on its parks.

Peter Harnik, director for the Center for City Park Excellence for the Trust for Public Land, said Memphis scored so low mainly because of citizens' lack of access to parks.

"Memphis had a low score because most people can't walk half a mile to a park," Harnik said. "[In Memphis], the spending on parks and recreational programming is lower than average. There are also fewer playgrounds in Memphis than what is considered average. There is also a low amount of designated land for parks, despite it being such a spread out city."

Still, with such a low score, Harnik is confident that parks in Memphis can improve. "There are lots of Memphians who understand that better parks mean a better city, and we want to get with these people and strengthen that feeling," Harnick said.

An alleyway in the Vollentine Evergreen Neighborhood that runs parallel to the Greenline. The Trust for Public Land would like to turn these into functional connections throughout the neighborhood.
  • An alleyway in the Vollentine Evergreen Neighborhood that runs parallel to the Greenline. The Trust for Public Land would like to turn these into functional connections throughout the neighborhood.

Last week, members of the community met with the Trust for Public Land, the Memphis Parks and Neighborhoods Division, and representatives from the Hyde Family Foundation to discuss the future of the park system that currently ranks as one of the worst in the country. It was the third in a series of public meetings intent on raising public awareness about local park quality that began last year.

The partnership has introduced new ideas to revitalize parks in Memphis, covering topics ranging from park maintenance and reconstruction to integrating parks to allow for more ecotourism.

Lauren Taylor, program director for Livable Communities at the Hyde Family Foundation, said the partnership has been focusing on revamping the entire park system from a grassroots level.

"Since the partnership started in 2013, we have found that there are two main things that need to change," Taylor said. "The first thing we need to do is write a new master plan for the parks, because the last one was written in 1999. Secondly, we need to develop and strengthen the advocacy for parks that already exist."

Some of the things the partnership is addressing include: completing a greenway that runs along Lick Creek, completing a greenway on the abandoned Chelsea rail line, reconnecting the Wolf River with the harbor and constructing a boat launch, and converting some Midtown alleyways into attractive, functional connections to the Vollintine-Evergreen Greenline.

Taylor said she hopes the public meetings the partnership has been hosting will allow the community to see that better parks in Memphis is an attainable goal.

"The big question is how do we better resource these things so we aren't just relying on the city's operating budget every year," Taylor said. "That's what this partnership is trying to answer."

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