Sunday, May 02, 2004

Letters: ULI's Vision Excludes Many in Memphis 'Family'

The Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

In his April 25 Viewpoint guest column, "'Family room' could bring city together," Wayne Ratkovich fails to extend the invitation to everyone in this city's family. In his endorsement of the Riverfront Development Corp.'s plans for the promenade, Ratkovich cites the Urban Land Institute's vision for a civic "family room" that would include high-dollar restaurant and retail establishments that many economically marginalized Memphians would never be able to visit.

It is understandable that Ratkovich, an outsider, might not be familiar with the whole Memphis family. He may not have had time to visit the failing schools or lunch with the homeless population at one of our soup kitchens.

Chances are he does not understand the broken government systems that funnel huge sums of city and county money into economic development projects that cater to those with substantial means, leaving large tracts of chronic poverty thriving in need.

It is understandable that Ratkovich may have missed the immense needs here, but it is inexcusable that our governments and quasi-governmental entities would make the same mistake time and again. Surely they see the many social issues looming over our collective heads.

We are seeing the failure of economic stimulus to correct our broken neighborhoods and schools. Maybe our city's stewards will redirect the plans for a "family room" on the riverfront, and focus our resources on correcting the issues that cripple our educational and social systems. Maybe they will create a longer-term plan for economic growth by ensuring that all citizens have access to the education and services needed to exploit economic opportunities.

J. Marc Cunningham
Cordova


Memphis's founders saw a different vision

The headline on an April 25 Viewpoint guest column praising the RDC's scheme for the riverfront, "Vision of founders will come to life," is misleading, at best.

John Overton, one of Memphis's founders, clearly defined their vision of the promenade: "between the front lots (east of Front Street) and the river is an ample vacant space, reserved as a promenade, all of which must contribute very much to the health and comfort of the place, as well as to its security and ornament."

Note the phrases "ample vacant space" and "all of which." Obviously, the intention is a walkway through an open space park.

Since then, this "ample vacant space" has picked up a customs house/post office, a library, a fire station and two parking garages - all of which, even though they were needed public uses, wronged both the citizens of Memphis and the Overton heirs.

Now the RDC proposes that the library, the fire station, and both parking garages be replaced with a wall of medium- and high-rise buildings along Front Street, with "promenade" walkway balconies on the west. This is not public use, and again deprives Memphians of the park and promenade the founders envisioned.

It's a shame that we are considering leasing to developers the use of this property, which is a birthright of all Memphians.

Roy Harrover
Memphis


I live in downtown Memphis. I am passionate about it.

When called to vote on the RDC's plan, the City Council must balance what is good for the few against what is good for the many.

Friends for Our Riverfront is lobbying to retain the area as a public park and promenade. The RDC would like to erect a couple of high-rise buildings, of 23 to 30 stories each, and lease them to private developers.

Does the RDC plan mean that when driving west on Union Avenue we will be in a shadow cast by a 400-foot wall lining the bluff and blocking our sunlight and view? How much will the project cost and who will pay for it?

It's nice to have someone looking out for us. How fortunate we are to have citizens who pay attention to issues that will forever affect all of us and generations to come. Thank you, FfOR.
Relying on our politicians and corporate leaders to keep us informed is neither wise nor tradition here. What height precedents will the City Council be setting if it decides in favor of the RDC? What will that mean to future developments on our river?

If you favor the RDC's plan, you are in the company of some very powerful politicians and prominent people. If you favor the FfOR plan, now is the time to get involved.

Leigh L. Davis
Memphis


I don't have Grizzlies tickets, political influence nor the money to make significant campaign contributions. I do have, however, one vote and a sincere concern for the future of our riverfront.

I ask the City Council to carefully scrutinize the RDC's proposal to allow the development of 300- to 400-foot high-rise towers on public property.

Bill Tillner
Memphis


Local architects offered consulting help, AIA says

In response to your April 28 article "Architects urge open space on riverfront," I want to go on record to say that RDC president Benny Lendermon's statement that officials "worked a great deal" with the Memphis chapter of the American Institute of Architects in the planning process is false.

True, we have asked the RDC to consider consulting with AIA Memphis in the planning process and to use us as a resource, but to date this has not happened.

Our AIA chapter adopted a resolution asking the RDC and the City Council to "explore a broader range of alternatives" than the RDC's plan.

I want to reiterate that the resolution, which was formed after presentations from both the RDC and Friends for Our Riverfront, was challenged before being supported by our board and then sent out to the membership for their vote. Eighty-two percent of our polled membership agreed with the resolution.

I also believe that we went out of our way to communicate our position to the RDC before making the resolution public.

I have since been made aware that we are not alone in our position and have the support of a stronger majority than those who originally responded to the poll, as well as the support of many outside our organization. I resent Lendermon's comments.

Rebecca Conrad
President, AIA Memphis
Memphis


Stifling ideas for growth gets Memphis nowhere

The great cities of the world became great because they had bold ideas for growth. Tour the outer drive in Chicago, and I dare anyone not to be inspired.

If these cities had listened to the objections cited by the writer of your April 25 letter to the editor, "Honor city's heritage, not costly 'urban fantasy' ," they would still be floundering around in political folderol - as Memphis is.

Let us all be a little tolerant in viewing plans for growth for our city. As a Chicago transplant, I look forward to the future here.

Memphis will never be a great city if we continue to stifle ideas for growth.

Don Meyers
Cordova

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