It could well be that we look back to today’s decision regarding zoo parking on Overton Park’s greensward as the seminal moment when we came face-to-face with the brand of leadership that Jim Strickland brought to the mayor’s office.

All in all, his decision was a gutsy political call and flew in the face of most predictions of what he would do. Rather, his recommendation had the earmarks of a man who’s getting more and more comfortable with his responsibilities and who’s willing to defy conventional wisdom to make a clear, definite decision to protect the greensward as parkland, not parking land.

If, as we expect, the details of his proposal match the recommendations outlined in his regular Friday email, it places the mayor squarely on the side of neighborhood activists fighting to enhance and protect key quality of life assets.  It could also create momentum that will serve him well as he moves to other key decisions such as appointment of a new police director.

A few months ago, we wrote that it was hard to determine what kind of leadership Mr. Strickland would bring to the mayor’s office because he had been consumed with unexpected crises and unresolved problems that remained from the previous administration.  As a result, it was difficult for him to find his rhythm, but with the budget behind him and many of the ticklish issues now addressed, the greensward issue was the first to give an indication of his mayoral style.

Time will tell if we are right, but it seems now that he’s getting more and more comfortable sitting behind the mayor’s desk and that he’s willing to make a tough call that defies political punditry and demonstrates that he’s making the transition from the legislative to executive branch.

It’s hard to think of a better foil for his decision than Zoo President Chuck Brady, who characteristically opposed the mayor’s reasonable compromise and promised to take his fight to Memphis City Council, which, as a result of a faulty legal opinion by its attorney, remains at the center of this dispute.  However, a majority of the Council had indicated that they would support whatever recommendation the mayor made, so we’re hoping that the Council will say “enough is enough” to Mr. Brady’s continuing ham-handed, tin-eared behavior.

He has done the zoo no favors throughout this controversy with his intemperate comments and his provocations on the greensward (such as routing cars there when there were empty spaces on the zoo parking lots), but his most grievous action has been to drive a wedge between a much-loved amenity and many Memphians, notably the neighborhoods surrounding it.

Most of all, Mr. Brady’s position defies a simple principle: that Memphians are willing to act in their own hometown the same way they act when they visit other cities.  All of us have walked blocks and blocks to visit attractions when we are out of town.  If Mr. Brady’s hyperbole about the zoo is correct, surely, his visitors are willing to do the same here.

Despite Mr. Brady, it’s a hopeful day, and Mayor Strickland’s proposal deserves wide support.

The following are our posts about Overton Park and the greensward parking issues and they are followed by the official statement of the Overton Park Alliance:

Peter Harnik Talks About Overton Park  June 8, 2016

Low Park Rankings Bolster Overton Park Protection Movement  June 6, 2016

Long-Term Zoo Parking Solutions Ignored For 27 Years May 1, 2016

Parking Answers Depend on Zoo Caging Its Obstinacy April 8, 2016

City Council Complications, Growth, and Short Honeymoons  March 4, 2016

New City Council’s Chance To Set New Tone For The Future  February 29, 2016

Parks’ Progress Is Memphis’ Progress  January 25, 2016

Data Points: Zoo Funding January 19, 2016

Zoo Digs Up More Greensward Parking Controversy January 18, 2016

Reaching for What Overton Park Wants To Be  June 15, 2015

Parking Memphis’ Lack of Ambition May 22, 2015

Overton Park Conservancy Spotlighted in Prestigious National Report  March 27, 2015

In light of Mayor Strickland’s announcement of his recommendation regarding the protection of the greensward, the Overton Park Alliance issued the following statement: 

Today, Mayor Strickland announced a proposed resolution to address the parking needs of the Memphis Zoo, while preserving the essential character of the central public space in the park referred to as the Greensward.

The Mayor’s compromise plan requires the sacrifice of a portion of the Greensward adjacent to current Zoo parking in exchange for permanent protection of the vast majority of the Greensward land for public use. This compromise includes the creation of a visual and physical barrier to separate the natural park spaces from the Zoo’s parking lot.

We regret that any portion of the park’s natural space must be sacrificed. However, we understand that the continued success of the Memphis Zoo, a key partner of the park and an institution cherished by generations of Memphians, requires that parking solutions be found.

To accomplish this goal, we support the proposed compromise and express our appreciation and gratitude to the Mayor for his leadership in resolving this issue. As with all public projects, the “devil’s in the details.”

Our support is based upon our understanding that the final document will address the following critical issues:

1.  This solution, when fully implemented, will once and for all end Zoo use of the Greensward other than the portion to be incorporated into the Zoo lot. Legal protections must be established to permanently assure the enforceability of the plan.

2.  Landscape design professionals will advise the City on the optimal line of demarcation at the edge of the swale area and create a low impact development plan in order to provide the most visually optimal solution so as to preserve and enhance the natural appearance of the land.

3.  The current dispute over park management will be resolved with the Zoo being granted control over the portion of the Greensward to be devoted to Zoo parking, while the Overton Park Conservancy’s management control of and responsibility for the natural portion of the Greensward will be affirmed. Upon its abandonment by the City, the General Services Lot will be transferred to the OPC, with Zoo visitors granted usage of the paved parking area for overflow parking along with park visitors.

4.  To the extent possible the design professionals will be charged with preserving the old growth Magnolia and Oak trees to the south of the existing Zoo lot and incorporating them within protected areas in the extended Zoo lot.

5.  The final plan will confirm and recognize the protection of the Old Forest area of the park from incursions by Zoo trams or other passenger vehicles.

6.  The Mayor should establish a mechanism for public input with regard to the implementation plans for the agreements outlined in his proposal.

Overton Park Alliance Evergreen Historic, Midtown Action Coalition, VECA, Park Friends, Parkway House, Belleair Woods, Memphis Heritage, Stop Hurting Overton Park, Hein Park Neighborhood, Midtown Memphis Development Corp, Humans of Overton Park, Cooper–Young Community Association, Free Parking Brigade, Bellaire Woods, East End Neighborhood, Morningside Place, Central Gardens, Tucker Jefferson, Physicians for Urban Parks 2282 Madison Ave. Memphis, Tennessee 38104 The Overton Park Alliance will continue to remain vigilant to assure that the proposed plan is implemented to the benefit of the park and all of its users.

We encourage all park supporters to express their appreciation to the Mayor for his leadership on this critical issue. We encourage park users to continue to express their love for the park through robust regular use of the Greensward, but we ask that park supporters refrain from actions that would interfere with the Zoo’s use of the area for necessary overflow parking until the plan is fully implemented in 2017.

We ask the Zoo to reciprocate with a show of good faith by removing the metal barriers from the Greensward commencing immediately and only use the Greensward in this interim period when truly necessary.

The Overton Park Alliance is comprised of the neighborhood associations and park support organizations listed above and collectively represents tens of thousands of Memphis citizens with a deep love for our city and for Overton Park, a public space used weekly by thousands of Memphians and Mid-Southerners. We are committed to protecting the park for the use and enjoyment of all Memphians and for generations of Memphians to come.