A Step in the Right Direction for Overton Park


A Step in the Right Direction for Overton Park

A Step in the Right Direction for Overton Park
Nov 10, 2017


The City of Memphis is moving forward with plans to reconfigure the Memphis Zoo parking lot, which will discourage visitors from parking on the Overton Park greensward, rightfully restoring the landscape to its intended role as open space for passive and active recreation. On November 3, 2017, the Powers Hill Design team presented three initial proposals for the updated lot. All three design schemes include the City Council-mandated 415 additional parking spaces, while addressing the need to preserve specimen trees and the visual and spatial qualities of the greensward. The proposals are viewable here:

Memphis residents, and those familiar with Overton Park, are encouraged to fill out this survey by November 20th, the results of which will be used to inform the final design. After the Powers Hill team has reviewed and incorporated feedback, they will release an updated concept proposal, and the community will again be asked to provide comments.


This article was originally published on July 5, 2017:

The fate of the Overton Park Greensward has long been in flux. As we have previously reported, visitors to the adjacent Memphis Zoo are frequently directed by Zoo personnel to park their vehicles on the lawn, diminishing its health, compromising its longevity, and hurting its value as public parkland. But fans of the greensward – an iconic feature in the George Kessler-designed park that was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 – have some positive news to report.

George Kessler's master plan for Overton Park. The red area shows land ceded to the Memphis Zoo while the orange color denotes the area of the greensward currently impacted by parking.

On June 20, 2017, the Memphis City Council accepted funding from the Overton Park Conservancy (OPC) and the Memphis Zoological Society, approving an initial contribution of $250,000 each to execute a contract with Powers Hill Design for the development of construction plans for the zoo’s parking improvement project – one that will, ostensibly, have minimal impact on the Overton Park Greensward, instead maintaining the site for its intended purpose – open space for the community.

The project would undertake improvements, including renovations of the zoo’s current parking area to accommodate more vehicles by expanding slightly into the northernwestern edge of the greensward, and by providing an accompanying buffer to ensure that rogue cars no longer park directly on the recreational lawn.

This was made possible by a remarkable two-month fundraising campaign by the OPC, in which they successfully raised the emergency $1 million needed for the project to move forward. Back in April, the City Council had halted acceptance of the conservancy’s already-raised $250,000 for initiation of the design phase, stating that the OPC needed to raise the full $1 million as a guarantee that they would deliver their share of the costs over the course of the project.

The orange outline shows the impacted area from parking on the greensward

Approximately 90 percent of donations to the OPC over the intervening months came from within Memphis, reiterating the importance of the park to its own community. The other ten percent came from across the country, including residents of nearly every state and the District of Columbia – an impressive representation that emphasizes the significance of the parkland to all citizens. The OPC reports that more than half of the donations received were from people who had never given to the conservancy before, and that the most popular giving level was $100, further proof of an impactful grassroots campaign.

The City Council requires that both the zoo and the conservancy will be equally responsible for construction costs going forward, at a current estimation of $1.5 million each. Yet concerned citizens maintain that the OPC should not be responsible for equal funding to the zoo, which reportedly has a budget nineteen times the size of the conservancy’s. Regardless, with its recent campaign the OPC has proved that it has the support of the community locally and further afield, and the ability to raise the funds as needed.

How You Can Help

The Overton Park Conservancy has committed the initial $1 million required for the project to move forward. Total costs for the project, including design, construction, and maintenance will, however, likely reach over $3 million (necessitating a $1.5 million contribution from the OPC). You can contribute to the continuing fundraising campaign here: www.overtonpark.org/greensward