In response to Thursday’s posting of Carol Coletta’s letter about the riverfront, we received a complaint from a regular reader. We publish his comment here, followed by Carol’s reply:
The RDC’s Riverfront Masterplan is an integrated plan to line the pockets of a few special interests loyal to King Willie.
1. The riverfront is already a signature gathering place. Memphis in May is just one example of this. It doesn’t need the RDC’s plan to become what it already is.
2. I believe we already have riverfront unrivaled in the nation. It can and should be improved, not destroyed. The RDC’s plan would have taken us backwards and given us a subpar riverfront more like any other average city with concrete canyons rather than a public promenade with open sky.
3. The RDC’s plan to finance building the skyscrappers and the Land Bridge have always been suspect to say the least. In reality, it’s another boondoggle to drain city funds.
4. Pedestrian access is good … even to Mud Island (there is a walkway above the monorail). It could be better with pedestrian walkways over the streets along the River Walk. The RDC’s plan would have put a sub-division at the end of Mud Island that, along with the accompanying traffic, would have lesson pedestrian access, not increased it. Besides, without the Mud Island Park, why would anyone want to walk over there?
If Ms Coletta’s letter is the best they can do a reason to justify their existence, then it is time to do away with the RDC altogther.
Who are these so-called “special interests” you speak of? If you know them, please name them. (A disclaimer: I could be considered one of those special interests, I suppose. I’ve owned 41 Union Ave. for 30 years.)
We have a magnificent river with one of the world’s great views across to the rural landscape of Arkansas. But the riverfront is another matter.
Thanks to investments by the City during Mayor Herenton’s Administration, we do have a bluff walk, and with leadership and persistence by the RDC, the bluff walk has been extended to the south and north.
But Tom Lee Park (not the view) is a very poor excuse for a gathering place. (You call a gathering place for the public something that costs $20 to enter, is severely damaged for months afterwards, and provides no shade or refreshments at any other time of the year? My, your standards are low.) And look at the way the bluff walk connects back to the city, particularly between Beale and Union. It is an abomination.
This nostalgia for the fire station, parking garages, and library along Front Street is laughable. I’ve looked out my window for 30 years at this landscape, and I promise you, it is nothing to be nostalgic about. It is a collection of buildings put there because the land was “free.” But the opportunity cost was incalculable. The result is a rag tag collection of buildings with no relationship to one another, no orientation to the riverfront and no practical public access. Why you resist the proposed Promenade is beyond me.
Your use of “concrete canyons” is perjorative. Let’s break it down. What do you propose instead: single family homes to make downtown like the suburbs. In fact, the subtext of much of the opposition to the master plan has been the opposition to density. But if you want a vibrant urban core that can support “live, work, play, shop” options like any real downtown, you must have density. You have to have people — and a lot of them.
The master plan was carefully crafted not only to improve public access and enjoyment of our river but also to pay for the improvements. The opposition has never — NEVER — proposed any realistic or reasonable plan to pay for any of their proposals. They are more pipe dreams of some bucolic open space better suited to the suburbs than to the city.
Finally, any one who uses the riverfront with any regularity knows the enormous difference the RDC has made in its upkeep and maintenance.
Another third rate park is not what downtown Memphis needs. (Check the use of Jeff Davis and Confederate Parks, then tell me how “attractive” they are.) The only way we are going to get first-rate public space along the riverfront is to figure out a way to pay for it with private development.
The current model for urban parks worldwide is Millennium Park in Chicago. It has set a new standard for great public space. It has an intensive set of uses that activate it year-round.
Arguing that we should simply settle for what we have takes a very small view of what Memphis can be. Let’s not fall back to our very familiar position of selling ourselves short while we have the chance to transform the riverfront into a spectacular public space that enlivens and enriches our city.