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Boldly backward 

Boldly backward

Given the option of looking forward or backward, a Little Rock city advisory board didn't tarry in setting a course for the past. Some residents had feared the advisors might dawdle over the question, maybe as long as overnight, but the board members heard competing presentations — sat while the presentations were made, anyway — and then immediately recommended that city park land be turned into a parking lot. It was almost as though their minds were already made up, or had been made up for them.

In the rest of urban America, such a proposal would be looked at with loathing. Oh, a hundred years ago, when automobiles were young, city governments would convert parks to parking lots, and do anything else to accommodate drivers and developers. But this is the 21st century, and it is known now that people need occasional escape from cubicles, asphalt, traffic jams and gasoline fumes, and that a function of city government — an important function — is to provide such respite.

Three plans have been submitted to the city for the War Memorial Park property on which the abandoned Ray Winder Field sits. One would give the property to a War Memorial Park neighbor, the Little Rock Zoo, providing the otherwise landlocked zoo with room for expansion and improvement that could turn a pretty good zoo into a really good zoo. Another would save Ray Winder as a site for amateur baseball, a legitimate use of park property. Only the third proposal, to sell the land to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences for use as a parking lot, is totally inappropriate. This is the proposal that the mysterious advisory board embraced, with such speed that people are bound to wonder if approval had been negotiated earlier, at the country club, say, or the bar of the Capital Hotel. (We refer to the advisory board as “mysterious” because even a member of the Little Rock Board of Directors, Brad Cozart, admits to confusion about how a city advisory board came to be recommending sale of Ray Winder Field after a city-appointed task force on War Memorial Park had already submitted plans for the park's future that did not include sale of the ballfield property.)

Majestically missing the point, UAMS Chancellor I. Dodd Wilson says the property would not stay a parking lot forever, but would eventually be used for educational purposes. Yet it would still not be a park, and, by the way, if UAMS ever stopped using the Ray Winder property for parking, it would want other space for that purpose, and would turn its hungry eyes on the rest of War Memorial Park. Once the nibbling at a city park begins, it continues until the park is devoured. 

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