You're "right" on track with the national gurus

What you've been saying you want for our riverfront and what authorities around the country are saying, are one and the same thing.

Here's a must-read article by columnist Neal Peirce on the multitude of ways cities are benefitting from parks and information about a new 4-part PBS series on how American cities are becoming more livable and attractive by reclaiming nature.

By Neal Peirce

CHICAGO -- Grimy, dark, foreboding -- underscored by urban flight and chilling film scenes, America's cities suffered negative images through much of the late 20th century.
But there's a new, green, urban alchemy. And it's on spectacular display in Chicago this spring. Reflecting Mayor Richard M. Daley's intent to make his city the greenest in America, downtown is filled with beds of flowers and blossoming pots hung from new street lamps. Some 70 miles of green roadway medians stretch out into the neighborhoods.
Chicago's signature lakefront parks are a well-tended, green expanse of intense people use. The city is spending generously to maintain and upgrade its 570 parks, 31 beaches, 518 playgrounds, 16 historic lagoons and more.
The biggest splash by far is the new Millenium Park, $475 million worth of greenery, sculpture, fountain, grass and plantings between Michigan Avenue and the lakefront, including a stunningly designed outdoor music facility that provides 50 free concerts each summer.
Since Millenium's 2004 opening, Chicagoans and visitors have poured in, close to 4 million yearly, a kaleidoscope of races, ages and classes. But the park is also a perfect fit for the new green metaphor: its exquisite plantings have replaced an open pit of railroad tracks, ugly trusses holding up railroad electric lines, and a dusty surface parking lot.
Welcome to a park junkie's paradise, Alderman Mary Ann Smith told an Urban Park and Recreation Summit of directors and advocates from major cities, gathering in Chicago last week. Since the late 1980s, she said, Chicago's new and remade parks, its flowers and public art have begin to turn around many blighted, crime-ridden neighborhoods. "We're creating places people want to be, not places people want to flee. "
In addition to the remarkable half million trees planted during Daley's tenure, many asphalt schoolyards have been converted to grass, vacant lots turned into community gardens, and trails, greenways and wildlife habitat developed along such waterways as the Chicago River.
One result: hundreds of millions of dollars of new housing, America's most dramatic "back to the city movement." Real estate values around Millenium Park alone have increased by at least $1.2 billion. Greenery has helped Chicago expand its visitor and convention industry to $9 billion in value a year.
And the phenomenon isn't Chicago's alone. Across the U.S., "there's a growing momentum - confidence that parks are no longer just a pretty face, but can drive economic development, " Trust for Public Land president Will Marshall told the parks summit.
Well-maintained parks, said John Crompton, a parks expert from Texas A & M University, "are a city's "wow" factor--everyone loves greenery around them." City councils that cut corners in park maintenance need a wake-up call, he suggested, because there's clear evidence that from the founding of New York's Central Park in the 1850s onward, parks have raised surrounding property values well above the cost of their construction.
And, Crompton said, the payoff continues. Highly-educated, professional workers -- the economic gold of these times -- gravitate to places with high quality of life, parks and recreation included. Indeed, firms in less attractive places have to struggle with "disamenity compensation" -- premium pay to draw talent.
And economics is just one reason to fight budget cuts and mobilize support for parks, the Chicago conferees proclaimed in a national "Call to Action " drawn up by the National Recreation and Park Association.
First, there's health -- fostering wellness and combatting today's scourges of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. People enjoy and keep returning to quality parks with their greenery and natural beauty, attractive pathways for walking, running and biking, and sports fields. The visitor repeat rate for parks far exceeds treadmills and other tortuous exercise machines that many people abandon after a few weeks or months.
Second, tree-studded city parks provide natural filtration for storm water runoff, reduce carbon dioxide/greenhouse gas impacts and act as natural city air conditioners in summertime, mitigating urban "heat island impacts." Each piece of raw land or brownfield recycled into parkland helps -- even in a Chicago where Daley is pushing the green envelope even further with some 200 energy-saving green roof buildings, City Hall included.
Third, parks matter immensely for youth -- outdoors play fosters children's physical and mental growth, pulling them away from a deadened life of television and video games. Among teenagers and young adults, well-run parks clearly blunt crime levels. Yet, sadly, low-income neighborhoods, with their heavy minority and immigrant populations, are seriously park-poor -- especially in cities such as Atlanta, Los Angeles and Dallas, reports Peter Harnik of the Trust for Public Land.
Will Chicago's green alchemy and focus on parks sprout across the continent? The case is compelling. But it's also a wonderful human opportunity, says Chicago's Alderman Smith -- creating and fostering better parks as safe places for children to just lie around and watch the clouds.

Click here to refresh yourself on what you've been saying all along.

And if that's not confirming enough, there's also the new PBS series EDENS LOST & FOUND, a four-part series, that WKNO unfortunately is not running now, but may schedule later.

The extraordinary stories of environmental rebirth in four very different American cities will be covered, each in a Thursday night segment. Each one-hour program examines the unique environmental, economic and social issues that each of these great cities face.

And there's a power to the people element to the good news. Interviews with citizen activists, politicians, urban planners, and urbanites reveal how passion combined with innovative strategies can address the widespread problems facing many of America's urban environments today. While these citizen activitists and politicians come from different parts of the U.S. they share a common approach. It's called Sustainable Development.

Episode One: Chicago, City of the Big Shoulders, airs May 18.
Episode Two: Philadelphia, the Holy Experiment, airs May 25.
Episode Three: Los Angeles, Dream a Different City airs Fall 2006.
Episode Four: Seattle, The Future is Now airs Fall 2006.

"The Week" in NYC picked the first segment on Chicago as last week's "Show of the Week." The film focuses on Mayor Richard M. Daley's often agressive "Green Crusade": bulldozing an airstrip into an urban oasis, building the 24-acre Millennium Park over a parking garage, and championing "green rooftops" that absorb rainfall and harbor wildlife. It also spotlights community initiatives to reclaim land for native Midwestern flora, clean up rivers, and turn slag heaps into meadows.

Let's hope WKNO will give us a chance to see them.

[Click here to read more...]

City Budget Time

It’s budget time, so we’ve been taking a look at both the RDC’s operating and CIP budget requests. Here’s what we’ve seen plus a little background.

The City has two budgets: an operating budget and a capital improvements project (CIP) budget. Immediate needs and everyday operations are covered by the operating budget, and the money to pay for them comes directly out of tax revenues. Requests in the CIP are to cover big, long-term projects, and the money comes from federal and state grants and from bonds issued by the City with part of the principal and interest paid off each year by the operating budget. The Administration comes up with a budget for each division of city government and for bodies under contract with the City to provide services. That budget is then sent to the City Council for consideration and approval.

In 2001 the Administration signed a 5-year contract with the RDC to manage the parkland along the Mississippi River. That contract comes up for renewal this July. 99% of the RDC’s budget is public money.
Each year the RDC submits its operating budget request to the City Council. This year, like last, the RDC came to the Council with a request but without an itemized budget. This year the Council sent them home to do their homework and report back. Here’s the operating budget that the RDC Board has now passed and that will go to the Council for approval. As you see, they’re asking the City for $2,165,864 in operating expenses.

Big projects planned by the RDC are in the CIP budget. The Administration signed a second contract with the RDC in 2004, a development contract making the RDC the sole agent for development of the riverfront. Part of the land they plan to develop is the Public Promenade. Set aside in 1819 as a common space to be used and enjoyed by all the citizens of Memphis, this prime land on the Riverbluff, is slated by the RDC to be turned over to developers for private high-rise condos and offices. The City does not own this land but only holds an easement to it, so this part of the RDC Master Plan, as things stand, is not doable. Friends for Our Riverfront is committed to protecting and improving this space for public use. Nonetheless, it remains part of the RDC plan and is included in one of the four RDC long-term projects in the CIP budget.

Over the next five years, the RDC wants the City to issue $20,969,000 in new general obligation bonds for three of their four projects: Beale Street Landing ($17.5M), Cobblestone Landing ($602,000), and Riverfront Park Improvements ($2.8M). This year they are asking for $5M, next year for $13.5M.

The biggest ticket item in the RDC CIP budget, Beale Street Landing, is planned as a commercial boat dock with a ticketing and restaurant facility and underground parking. It is to be located west of Riverside Drive at the foot of Beale Street in the southernmost tip of Tom Lee Park and the northernmost part of the cobblestone area. This land is not part of the Public Promenade. The RDC CIP budget (click to take a look)
shows $29,759,026 for construction of Beale Street Landing. $9,258,026 in reprogram money, $7,735,000 in 2007, and another $12,766,000 in 2008.
The budget not only shows the amounts, it also shows where the money will come from:
1) $9,258,026 in reprogram money is from "federal and state grants CIP"
2) $2,500,000 of the money in the 2007 CIP is to come from "local other CIP".
3) The rest -- $4,793,000 in 2007 and $12,766,000 in 2008 ($17,559,000 total) -- is to come from issuing general obligation bonds, which are backed by our taxes.

No financial studies have been presented to show whether or not the boat dock will make money or pay for its maintenance and staff.

The second RDC project in the CIP budget seeks $3.1M for restoration, walkways, and underground utilities for the Cobblestone Landing area. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the cobblestone area is the only in tact wharfage on the Mississippi River. Of the $3.1M, $2.5M is to come from federal grants and $602,000 from general obligation bonds ($242,000 in 2007 and 360,000 in 2008).

The Riverfront Park Improvement Project request is for $2.8M to improve and maintain Crump and Chickasaw Heritage Parks, other riverfront parks, and Mud Island River Park. The amount is spread between 2008 and 2011 and is to come from general obligation bonds.

The fourth RDC project in the CIP requests $200,000 for Riverfront Planning, described as "funding to allow the continued planning of the Riverfront Master Plan, including such issues as the Promenade, Wolf River Harbor land use, Wolf River Trail, and other". This money is to come from a federal grant in 2007.

In toto the RDC is looking for approximately $35M in general obligation bonds, federal and state grants, and "local other CIP" for these four long term-projects over the next five years.

The RDC will present their CIP budget request to the Budget Committee on Tuesday, May 30th at 4:30 p.m. in the 5th floor conference room of City Hall. After that the budget is headed to the full Council.

[Click here to read more...]

About Town

Friends for Our Riverfront is all about making Memphis a better place to live. Here are some pictures of our volunteers about town.

Earthday Day, April 22nd,
brought big crowds to Lichterman Nature Center. All ages were there to have a good time and learn more about conserving our natural resources.The FfOR booth was a busy spot. Volunteers were on hand to answer questions about the Public Promenade and harbor and to discuss potential uses of the public's space on the Bluff.

The 25th Annual Outdoors Inc. Canoe and Kayak Race,
brought a record number of paddlers and viewers to Jefferson Davis Park for a beautiful morning on the river. There was time to talk and visit with lots of "Friends" about our incredible treasure along the riverfront.

On April 29, volunteers from Servathon and Hands on Memphis cleaned up the Cossitt Library grounds. It was a windy, rain-threatened morning, but, with special thanks to Becky Beaton, the 14 volunteers with their 28 hands made a big difference.
Here are some "before"

and "after" photos.

[Click here to read more...]