What, me park? 

What, me park?

A few weeks ago, officials at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences were bubbling about the new parking area they'd decided to acquire. A wonderful idea, they agreed; better than penicillin. Bureaucrats with medical degrees were ready to pull on overalls and start pouring the concrete themselves.

Then they learned that some people didn't share their enthusiasm for turning a city park into a parking lot, that there were people who used the inner-city park in question and who valued its green space and recreational amenities more highly than putting doctors a few feet closer to their offices. City Hall became aware of the dissidents too, and so UAMS' first bid to buy a piece of War Memorial Park was rejected — over a technicality, allegedly, but the temporary rejection and rebidding gave UAMS and sympathetic city officials time to tighten up the city's request for proposals and UAMS's response to it.

Now, it's as though a parking lot was the farthest thing from UAMS's mind — None Dare Call It Parking. The latest proposal doesn't even mention parking, though we were told before that more parking space was desperately needed by the institution, and that parking would be the first use made of the property. (No ironclad assurance was given that it wouldn't be the last use, too.)

Instead, UAMS boasts of how much money it has, inviting comparison with the other bidder for the property, the Arkansas Zoological Foundation, which would have to raise privately the $1.6 million it's offering so that the former Ray Winder Field property could be used to expand the Little Rock Zoo. One of Arkansas's most popular and wholesome attractions, the Zoo is hemmed in; this is very likely its last chance to grow.

UAMS evokes fantastic installations that “could be” located on the property “some day,” including a “biotechnology corridor” between UAMS and UALR to “optimize the synergy” of the two institutions. Forty years ago, when UALR came into existence, people were talking about a “corridor” between UALR and UAMS. It's no more tangible today than it was then. (Use of the word “synergy” should be enough to get a bid disqualified, incidentally. It's pitchman's jargon. “Send us a check for your valuable synergy! Now! Now! Now!”)

An improved zoo would draw huge crowds, and elevate the quality of life in Arkansas. Worth trying, but even if it can't be, if there's too little money and too little appreciation for working-class pleasures, the city of Little Rock should never give up park land for parking lots and waiting rooms. People need occasional refuge from such places. Where will they find it when all the parks are gone?    


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