Hey, fix the sidewalks? When is the last time you saw a pedestrian?
It is interesting, if you are so talented and inclined so as to do so,to see that change is sometimes perceived only as being something different, when actually it rarely is. Change the players from Doug Dickens, the original, to Joe Cooper, the copy. Nothing has changed. So what has anyone with half a clue been thinking? Hey, of course, themselves!
That's easy for you to say!!
I pity poor old Shelby Farms, one of the largest undeveloped municipally owned tracts of land in the United States. If you wish, and you are feeling generous, you could call it a park, or if your goal is to be true to history, it could be called a farm. Of course, to be exactly true to history, then you must also include it as an example of spin-doctoring worthy of a Presidential citation. Does it hide weapons of mass destruction? Nope, but who needs weapons when unscrupulous developers would serve the same purpose? Unfortunately, none of either was found by those making the claim.
You might by now realize that I have an attitude not shared by those responsible for spinning the…..I am sorry… for “saving” Shelby Farms. If not, and you are younger than 50 years of age, you are forgiven. During the last 35 years of so, no one now over the age of 15 could have overcome the spin generated by a well-orchestrated coalition of unlikely partners including private landowners, environmentalists, Save the Planet Folks, Wolf River Boaters, politicians, reporters, and those masochists who just enjoy a good fight. Moreover, no one did so. Everybody knows that, but since very few know why, I going to help you to understand. Could I be considered an authority on the subject? Well, since I was a member of the original (think 1972 or so) Shelby Farms Development Board (SFDB) and involved in all aspects of its organization before and after that date, you can make your own judgment. This is my inconvenient story:
The SFDB decided that 5,000 acres of land was too valuable a public resource to be left fallow. It was recognized as a financial liability by all responsible parties. Streets, utilities, sanitary sewer mains, and other utilities running through it had to be maintained with no abutting property owners to pay their share. Therefore, since it no longer served a need of the penal institution which spawned it, its value should be returned to its rightful owners, the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County. After a series of competing proposals, the SFDB chose the Rouse Company, a distinguished builder of planned communities such as Columbia, Maryland and others, to join as its local partner, the well-respected Boyle Investment Company. Together they would be responsible for planning and developing 2,900 acres of the farm. The citizens of Memphis and Shelby County would receive a major portion of the profit and with it the means to build and rebuild their community infrastructure. I envisioned new urban parks, new and improved school facilities, libraries, trauma centers, and payment towards all of the other vital services provided by our government. I envisioned the new town as a part of the City of Memphis with taxes to support the older center city. A new city-town with a true urban park of about 750 acres. Maybe it would not have all of the excellent facilities found in New York City’s Central Park, but it would be the same size. It may even have been possible, after all these capital expenditures, to afford a cut in taxes. Did I experience an exercise in frightful fantasy? If not, then why and how could this have not happened? As I had mentioned, it failed through a well-orchestrated coalition of unlikely partners, all of which had a common objective, with distinctly different stimuli. In my opinion, it included the essential partnership of developers and environmentalists. The environmentalists collaborated with the developers because they intended to “save” the land, and the developers who owned land just east of the farm wanted to save the land from being placed on the market in competition with that they already owned. Hey, it worked! The land was “saved,” and developers were free to develop Germantown Parkway as a commercial strip, and its eastward sprawl of customers. Ain’t we proud! Well I, for one, am not. I am ashamed and sorry that I could not save Shelby Farms from itself. John, see you soon.
By Richard Alley
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