ALL ROADS LEAD TO -- OTHER ROADS
In Hollywood, evil geniuses are not content to be modest about their ambitions for global domination. Just as they are about to take over the planet, they explain in great detail, their plan to RULE THE WORLD! (this is usually followed by maniacal laughter), just as they prepare to kill off the good guys who are on to them. The good guys manage to use this opportunity to devise some equally ingenious plan to free themselves from a certain grisly death and to deliver the world from the clutches of said evil genius.
It is unfortunate however, that real life affords no such truth in advertising by its megalomaniacs. If it did, Shelby County citizens might be better prepared to deliver themselves from the clutches of its hometown hegemonists--developers bent on paving every square inch of land that will lie still long enough to be covered over. Regrettably, these villains are much more demure in advertising their aims.
Recent articles tell the tale of suburban homeowners sick of gridlock, crime, noise and flooding in their neighborhoods. These beleaguered citizens beg for relief in the form of more and wider roads, better police protection, improved zoning and sensible growth plans. Their cries, however will go unheeded until they devise a plan to extricate themselves from the clutches of the developers. Which means electing politicians who will not sell themselves to the highest bidder. And realizing that one cannot escape the problems of one city by moving out of it, creating a new one next door and then building a road between the two.
My vehicle sports a Dont Split Shelby Farms bumper sticker. My significant other finds my mobile sign more than a bit hypocritical because I a) live just inside the 1-240 loop, b) work in Midtown, and c) hate shopping malls such as Wolfchase Galleria even more than I hate shopping. Therefore, my rare jaunts to points east mean that paving over that great green expanse will offer little utility to me. He, on the other hand, lives in Cordova and refers to the pavement on which he is stuck most mornings as the Walnut Grove Parking Lot. He posits that a cow pasture is hardly worth preserving in favor of preserving commuters sanity each day. I posit that green space is worth saving because there is so little of it in the average city. And that I have little interest in allowing developers to make Memphis a wave in the ocean of asphalt that will swell from sea to shining sea if we do not control their megalomania.
Is this merely a case of self-interest being so great that I care nothing for another road because I wont use it? To some degree, yes. But my objection to another road through another green space has more to do with the knowledge that roads do not alleviate traffic--ever. They only make heretofore inaccessible areas, well, accessible. Ever since the Romans started building roads, we have been on an inexorable path to congestion. And building a road through Shelby Farms, or reconfiguring Germantown Parkway, or widening 1-240 (again) will make no difference. Definitely not in the long run, and probably not even in the short run.
Skeptical? Ive got two words for you: Germantown Parkway. Remember how peaceful that once charming road was when it was actually called a road? Would someone who had moved from Memphis fifteen years ago even recognize this place if they were magically set down on it today? More importantly, did this thoroughfare solve any traffic problems? And how long would it take for the promised panacea of a road through Shelby Farms to become obsolete before there were cries to widen it to accommodate more traffic? Before we fire up the road graders, we might want to ask residents of Atlanta (the city which U.S. News & World Report recently named as having the longest commutes in the country) if the roads they are continually building have shortened their time in the car.
The argument that the parkway design would be efficient if it had only been followed misses the point that roads, however they are created, create traffic. Roads encourage people to purchase undeveloped tracts of land and build homes on them. People who build houses like to get to them, requiring that roads be expanded. And sooner or later, the people in these houses want to buy a gallon of milk without having to make certain their gas tanks are full before leaving home, which results in the development of commercial enterprises. If this linear progression were not so, it is unlikely the expression retail follows rooftops would ever have been coined. Roads and their byproducts, congestion, crime and landscape changes, are what happens when tens of thousands of people in search of the sylvan suburbs actually find them.
Before it is assumed that objecting to a road through Shelby Farms is fueled entirely by the apathy of those not affected by it, it would be wise to remember what created the problem: the self-interest of developers. And that one guys park today is merely the next guys parking lot tomorrow.
Christopher Lloyd played the archetypal evil genius in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
In one of the final scenes, he explains to Bob Hoskins and Company that his plan to eliminate the Los Angeles enclave known as Toontown was spawned by his desire to develop and build a shimmering ribbon of concrete as far as the eye could see. One that would be lined with motels, restaurants, and tire salons--and not a traffic jam in sight.
A road through Shelby Farms will not manage traffic in Cordova anymore than Lloyds freeway could control congestion in Los Angeles. More roads mean more people which means more development which means more roads--which means more people.
Which means if we build them, they will come.