Wednesday, December 5, 2007

235. City of Parks, but whose?

Back in May here along the Left Bank of the Ohio River near Milepost 606, in a post on the Democratic Primary for governor soon to be held, in writing about then-candidate Steve Henry, I mentioned in passing the efforts of Louisville philanthropist David Jones in securing money to help develop the Mayor's City of Parks, an initiative first introduced by His Honor in February 2005. Here is the passing remark:

Here at home, Steve [Henry] is quite well known among conservationists and park supporters for his work, along with David Jones, in establishing the Ring of Parks, so lauded by our Mayor, a trail of land proposed to link in a circumferent line of acreage thus enveloping our paraphysical city/county entity with greenspace, from the Riverwalk in downtown Louisville, out along the floodwall levees in the southwest, through the Jefferson Memorial Forest (a truly spectacular body of land) along the south, over to McNeely Lake, and along the outskirts of the Snyder Freeway back to the greenspaces along the river. It is a great plan, much supported in a very personal way by Steve Henry and his Future Fund properties.
Like the mayor and others, I am supportive of the idea of enclosing our urban and suburban areas with a green trail, a trail which will also separate those areas from the ex-urban and rural areas outlying Louisville-Jefferson County Metro. I am especially interested in protecting and more fully making available, either in an active or passive park system, the lands along the Floyds Fork of Salt River which meanders through southeastern and eastern Jefferson County in a low-lying plain of mostly undeveloped or (thankfully) underdeveloped land. Similarly, the plan includes the Jefferson Memorial Forest in southern Jeffeson County, the northern edge of Kentucky's knobs, and being the suburban and rural part of Jefferson County I called home as a child.

There is no question that this is a great project. It is one of the few things our mayor has undertaken which I have wholeheartedly supported, maybe the only one. The idea of Louisville-Jefferson County Metro having this parkland is quite-forward thinking, something the mayor rarely does with great effect. It has been supposed for nearly three years that these "parks" to be developed in this system would be "parks" in the general sense that most other "parks" are, that is, bodies of land owned and controlled by the Louisville-Jefferson County Metro with input from others, such as the Olmsted groups or the Nature Conservancy, or Mr. Jones' 21st Century Parks, Inc., or former Lieutenant Governor Henry's Future Fund.

Now, as with many, many other things in his administration, the mayor is telling us differently. This is a shift and one not totally acceptable to many. The mayor nows says that we (the Metro) cannot afford to own and manage these "parks" ourself, and that such ownership and management should be left to Jones et al. This is a form of privatization and should not be left unchecked. And it apparently wont.

When a resolution was drafted to memorialize into some sort of canon the transfer of these lands, it found little support from any Council members to sponsor it. They like many, including me, have strong reservations about the wholesale transfer of "park" land to a private entity, even one which has raised upwards of $60,000,000.00 for the project. They do not question the need for the parkland, just the angle at which the mayor proposes those lands be controlled and owned.

Fortunately, the Council has at least one member willing to sponsor this resolution so as to bring it and the public into a discussion. Councilman Jim King, Democrat of the 10th District of the Louisville-Jefferson County Metro, is a CPA and banker and quite successful local businessman. He is also willing to take risks, personal, professional, and political to advance ideas which others may not and demonstrably have not the willingness to do. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have served for pay as an adviser to Councilman King's campaigns since 2004.

Councilman King will sponsor the resolution and present it in committee, thus beginning the discussion which others sought to avoid. I'm not sure from speaking with King if he is wholly supportive of the measure as it is presently written, but the only way to change or alter it is to get it on the table, as he is doing. In our discussion last night, the words he said to me echoes almost exactly the words I had said to one who was critical of King's sponsorship.

That is, we need a park encircling the edge of the County. The mayor will not raise the revenues to provide for it and has said so. Entities such as Jones' and Henry's are willing and have been purchasing and preserving land for just such a park and this is a good thing. The issue isn't that the idea is bad. It isn't and everyone agrees it isn't. The issue is the mayor and others have led the community to believe all along that these would be "parks" in the sense that all the other "parks" are "parks" and now we are being told that to continue the program, we have to acquiesce to this plan for private control of these "parks." And that's the rub.

Thankfully, Councilman King's actions will bring this matter to a table for discussion. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Jake said...

I have to take issue with your mention of the Henrys as being as involved as they've been. I know Steve is your friend, but I saw first-hand what he did and didn't do with the Future Fund. From throwing those funds around to attempting to sell large chunks of land for personal benefit-- until Dan Jones almost took them to court unless promised lands were handed over. Or the homes on some of the property that he personally takes rent from.

I could go on and on. But until we stop corruption like this and and get people in power to recognize parks are a necessity-- it'll never happen.

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Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Single, male, bald, overweight, early 50s, seeking . . . Oh wait, that's goes on the other website. How about this - never married, liberal Democrat, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.