“Improve” is a word everyone uses when they talk about the Public Promenade, but it depends on who’s talking what the word means.

To Friends for Our Riverfront “improve” links with restoring, renovating, refurbishing, cleaning-up, revitalizing our riverfront park space for the public to use and enjoy. We’re thrilled to find an example right here in Memphis to illustrate how we can do it and what it can mean to the city.

As FfOR defines it, the Center City Commission has “improved” Court Square. On May 5, the Center City Commission officially reopened Court Square Park, after a renovation that CCC president Jeff Sanford described as “returning Court Square to the simple grandeur of the turn of the last century.” An article in the Commercial Appeal said that already Court Square is attracting new attention with Wednesday night concerts and lunchtime crowds feeding the pigeons and clicking in to new wireless internet connections.

Like the Public Promenade and three other downtown squares, Court Square was one of four public parks dedicated when Memphis was laid out in 1819. According to the newspaper article, Cy Paumier, a Washington, D.C. consultant and leading expert in revitalizing urban cores, noted that the square’s details had become “tired” and suggested the park be “simplified” and “returned to beautiful grass and trees.” In his opinion we’ll see results just like in Savannah, Ga., “where everyone perked up and began renovating buildings around the squares” after they were renovated.

Sound familiar? FfOR’s mission is to promote revitalization of the Memphis Riverfront as green space for public enjoyment, preserving its historic, natural, and aesthetic character.

The Court Square renovation cost $640,000, a far cry from the RDC's $50-100 million plan for the Public Promenade. If you listen carefully, to the RDC “improve” means turning the Riverbluff park over to private developers for condos, offices, and shops. In exchange the developers are supposed to build us a sidewalk along the edge. In our definition that’s not improvement, it’s exploitation.

For more on what Memphis can do with our beautiful Riverbluff and harbor, see the web sections under See the Light in the sidebar.