Two years ago, Overton Park Conservancy began asking park visitors to share their vision for an even better Overton Park. Through our conversations with you, we learned that you love the social connections you make at the park, and are eager for even more ways to foster them. You told us you love coming to the park for recreation and relaxation but would welcome more ways to make the park an all-day, all-weather destination.
Now, with all these ideas in mind, we’re ready to embark on the next phase of our park planning effort. Having looked at the park as a whole, now it’s time to focus on specific geographic areas of the park and how they can each contribute to creating a more vibrant, equitable space for all Memphians.
Our first geographic area–what we’re calling Zone 1–is the east side of the park, which includes the Bike Gate plaza; the East Parkway playground, pavilion, and picnic areas; and the 13-acre tract at the park’s southeast corner currently known as the General Services Area. Occupied by a City of Memphis vehicle maintenance facility since the 1930s, this parcel will soon return to the park. Deciding how it should be used will be a major component of our planning effort, and it’s a big reason that we selected the east side of the park as our first priority.
The 13-acre parcel contains three City-operated greenhouses, several garages, and a Works Progress Administration-era building that has been used as a metal shop and office space. The area reflects its industrial use; it’s paved in asphalt and will require a total reimagining.
We decided that the first people who should weigh in on the park’s future were those who would benefit from it most: young people. We’re thrilled to partner with the team at Center for Transforming Communities, a Binghampton-based organization that works to equip people and organizations to make change in their communities. CTC is leading engagement events that bring Memphis youth into the park to envision a space that they would want to visit.
On a chilly morning in late October, CTC Executive Director Justin Merrick invited ten high school students to bring their imaginations on a walk through Overton Park. He told them that when younger people are engaged in a project like the park planning effort, the level of imagination soars.
CTC Network Director Harry Cash encouraged the students, many of whom had spent time in Overton Park, to connect to their own memories of the space. The feelings and emotions brought on by those memories would help drive imagination. And, Justin added, “Your ideas help create those experiences for other people.”
The students were particularly excited about potential re-use of the greenhouses in the 13-acre parcel. They had ideas about community gardens and co-ops, and imagined coming to the greenhouses to supplement what they’re learning in school.
Students also wanted to see more cultural events and opportunities for recreation in the park, such as sports fields or a tree canopy walk. One student remarked that hearing about the park’s history was valuable, but there weren’t many places to learn about it within the park itself.
We look forward to working even more with these and other students as we develop the plan. But now it’s your turn! To take a virtual tour of the 13-acre parcel, visit overtonpark.org/zone1. Then take the survey to let us know what you see when you envision a whole new piece of parkland.