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Shelby Farms to Be a "21st-Century Park"

August 30, 2007

by James Murdock

Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, in consultation with Alex Garvin & Associates, will issue an RFQ on September 4 seeking designers for a 4,500-acre park in Shelby County, Tennessee. Located at the northeastern edge of Memphis, the site is more than five-times the size of Manhattan’s Central Park. Organizers are hoping to design a new kind of park for a new age.

Shelby Farms

Shelby Farms

Images: Courtesy Alex Garvin & Associates

Shelby Farms Park, located at the northeast edge of Memphis (top), will encompass 4,500 acres—some five times the size of Central Park in New York City. Organizers of a new RFQ for the park’s master plan are hoping to develop a park for the 21st century. There is no program yet for the park’s master plan because it will be determined based on public meetings held with the semi-finalists chosen through an RFQ process to identify a designer (above).

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“A 21st-century park is something very different from what Frederick Law Olmsted imagined when he won the competition for Central Park in the 19th century. We have the Internet, we have computer games, we have people flying to Hawaii for vacation, so a park in the 21st century has to be a wholly new kind of thing” says Alex Garvin, head of a Manhattan-based planning consultancy assisting in the RFQ. “I hope that we cast a wide enough net to get truly the first park of the 21st-century. Shelby Farms is certainly big enough to be something very special.”

Shelby Farms was originally a state-run prison farm between the 1920s and 1960s. Although part of the site is now occupied by an agricultural research and development center, the remaining land has been open to the public for recreational uses and is one of the last substantial green spaces in the region. As Garvin observes, “Everything to the east is suburbs and they’re developing quickly.”

Garvin, a former city planner, has extensive experience with large competitions: he was the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s vice president for planning, design, and development during the process of identifying a site plan for Ground Zero. Shelby County contacted him last year to develop a master plan for the park. But instead of doing that, he suggested that the program be developed with input gathered through a series of public planning meetings held in conjunction with the search for a design team. He also suggested that the park’s allies form a nonprofit conservancy much like the Central Park Conservancy, which assists New York City’s Parks Department, to oversee Shelby Farms’ upkeep. This new group hopes to raise between $50 and $100 million for the park’s development and maintenance.

The RFQ entries are due October 4. Three semi-finalists will be picked in November; they will have 20 weeks to tour the site, meet with stakeholders, and develop a master plan. The finalist will be selected in April 2008.

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