William Murray

William Murray is director of external relations for New Leaders, a nationwide nonprofit that helps principals and their teams work with underserved students. He volunteers as an ambassador for the Memphis River Parks Partnership. 

Serve the collective good at Tom Lee Park

By Published: April 20, 2019 1:43 PM CT

Memphis has changed a lot since I moved here from Brooklyn in 2012. Back then, Broad Avenue was just a couple of bars and a pizza joint, Overton Square was a ghost town, and the old Sears building was the Mid-South’s largest museum of rotting paint.

<strong>William Murray</strong>

William Murray

The transformation of these places is a big reason I’m still here. But it didn’t happen overnight. It took years of planning by developers, architects, and community members, working together toward a common vision – a vision centered around livable, inclusive amenities that improve quality of life for current residents, while also attracting talent from outside the city.

These are precisely the values on display in the new plans for Tom Lee Park, recently unveiled by the Memphis River Parks Partnership. Every Memphian should be ecstatic about the proposed improvements: more shade, better access to Downtown businesses, more performance venues and recreation options. Tom Lee will be a signature public park that signals our ambitions as a city. Indeed, if the current plans move forward, they will dramatically elevate Memphis’ national profile and prestige.

That’s why I’m troubled that the project is facing delays over concerns about its potential impact on Memphis in May. Let’s be clear: The riverfront is our city’s greatest shared asset. In order to capitalize on this asset, we have to invest in all the diverse populations that use our river parks throughout the year. We can’t afford to sacrifice the collective good in service of a single, narrow interest group – especially when the group in question has (from everything I’ve read) already had its needs completely satisfied by the existing plans.

Yes, Memphis in May is a sensational event. But imagine if the architects behind Crosstown Concourse had decided to focus solely on creating optimal conditions for the Crosstown 10K.  Or what if the developers of Overton Square had weighed every design decision against the possible implications for Crawfish Festival? These examples are (obviously) much smaller than Memphis in May, but, like Memphis in May, they are time-limited, paid-admission events, catering to an exclusive subset of our city’s residents. Contrast that with the timeless, cost-free public commons where these festivities take place.

We’ve got to decide if we want Tom Lee Park to be merely a space for hosting events, or a distinctive place that inspires and unites us.  The clock is ticking.


Memphis River Parks Partnership Tom Lee Park Memphis In May

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