Greensward politics is local for Ninth District Congressman Steve Cohen. He can see the Overton Park greenspace from his house. His walks usually take him around Rainbow Lake and the Old Forest. But he also loves the zoo. He sat on the Memphis Zoo board for nearly two decades, helping to raise $5.5 million for projects there.
His beloved park has become a protest zone with citizens inflamed about parking on the Greensward. Cohen helped forge a compromise between the zoo and protesters there a few weeks ago. The protest there last weekend was met with a show of force by police, which Cohen said was "way too much."
He's now trying to find federal money to assist in problem. He's also encouraging all parties inflamed by the situation to "chill" and let the mediation process work. If it doesn't work, "then olly olly oxen free," Cohen says.
Here are some snippets of an interview with Cohen about the Greensward parking situation. Look for the full interview online at memphisflyer.com later this week. — Toby Sells
Flyer: You live over there, so this really is a local issue for you, right?
Steve Cohen: Well, it's been an issue for that reason and also because I was on the board of the zoo from 1989 to about 2006. So, I got about 17 years with the zoo. ... I've got an investment in the zoo, which I think is marvelous, and I've got a real knowledge of and commitment to the park. By living there, I see [parking problems] there all the time.
You mentioned some solutions in a Commercial Appeal op-ed way back in 1989. Would they still work?
I think they would all work. I think you can have trams to Snowden School, which is still available on weekends and during the summer months, which is the main time they're needed. Trinity Church, their pastor is great, and he offered their church [parking lot]... on Saturdays and days during the week. I also think the [zoo] parking lot could be redesigned.
Have you weighed in with those involved in the current parking situation?
I have talked to some folks and will continue to talk to some people and encourage there to be a successful resolution. I do think that [FedEx Corp. executive] Richard Smith is an essential party because he's a young guy with a great future in this city, and he's really smart and creative.
What do you think of the protesters?
I think the protesters are great. They're bringing attention to [the issue]. They're letting the zoo and the community know how much the park and green spaces mean to our city. [The protestors] need to remain restrained. They've been great with police.
The zoo needs to be a little restrained, too. I understand the zoo getting upset about the situation. But everybody needs to chill and realize that it's probably going to work out and put our faith in the mediation. If the mediation doesn't work, olly olly oxen free.
What did you think of the show of police force last Saturday?
[The horses] seemed to be a bit of an intimidation on Saturday. The helicopter was way, way too much. They had the cavalry, and the Air Force, and then they had some artillery. ISIS would have left. But I have to give the protesters credit. They stayed calm and kept to their original purpose of having fun, and playing Frisbee, and doing yoga. ISIS would have probably run away.