Laura Morris

Laura Morris is co-chair of Memphis River Parks Partnership’s capital campaign committee and former executive director of Shelby Farms Park Conservancy.

At Tom Lee Park, look past the anxiety of change

By Published: March 28, 2019 7:04 PM CT

There is a time and place when an idea or institution meets change; when energy for a bigger vision coalesces to something grand – almost unimaginable.

That vision, especially when never seen before on-the-ground, is often met with skepticism and concern. These reactions should be expected when a potentially transformative project challenges the status quo.

Such was the case with the Shelby Farms Park and Greenline. The park had always been treasured as the Eastern bookend of our community – but it had historically never been pushed to a catalytic level.

During my time as Shelby Farms Park Conservancy executive director, we introduced a concept founded on the idea of inter-connectedness, threading parks and greenways from the hub of Shelby Farms Park into the core of our city and all the way west to the Mississippi River. This idea, which indeed challenged the status quo, was understandably met with pushback, particularly for a city who, in 2006, had yet to see its first bike lane.

We committed to more than displaying a rendering or raising funds, however. We knocked on doors, meeting people where they are, illustrating the benefits of a concept that would (and will) forever change the fabric of Memphis – for the better. We tackled topics of safety and equity directly.

Generally speaking, 100 percent buy-in for a new idea is virtually impossible. Often, universal agreement can drive an outcome to the lowest common denominator. The key is to work with a diverse audience willing to commit to the energy and effort because they see the potential of change.

While we struggled to create what is now a transformative, award-winning Shelby Farms Park and railbed-turned-bike trail Greenline, connecting hundreds of miles of bike lanes and hundreds of thousands of visitors, I attest that the struggle to take these renewed assets away would be ten-fold.

On a similar note, I can predict that when the Memphis River Parks Partnership’s work on Tom Lee Park is complete, few will look back and long for the flat field that we experience today.

It is worth the energy, the investment, and the commitment to our riverfront’s potential to look past the anxiety of change and toward the potential of a city’s continued transformation for all.

The Daily Memphian welcomes a diverse range of views and invites readers to submit guest columns by contacting Peggy Burch, community engagement editor, at

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Tom Lee Park Shelby Farms Park Memphis River Parks Partnership

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