Save the park
God enjoins his people to beat their swords into plowshares, so the prophet Isaiah tells us, but nowhere does he command that we beat our parks into parking lots. To the contrary, the Creator's known affinity for children, and peace, suggests that he likes parks better.
The divine preference might be something for Little Rock city directors to consider as they ponder the conversion of a chunk of War Memorial Park into a parking lot for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. It's true that UAMS originally offered $1.1 million for the property (and could offer more in a new round of bidding) and that money usually talks loudest to Little Rock's city government. But the Board of Directors is not required by law, man or God's, to consider only cash. The directors are allowed to give weight also to what is best for all the people of Little Rock, not just the speculators and developers who've long coveted War Memorial Park land. Though the current proposal is for the sale only of a relatively small part of the Park, where the abandoned Ray Winder Field sits, once that parcel is paved over, the rest of the park will follow. The demand for parking space does not diminish.
The first, semi-secretive effort by city administrators to slip the property to UAMS failed, ostensibly because of technical errors in the bidding process, more likely because the public was finally tipped to the deal. The city has now issued a new request for proposals, the specifications apparently written to fit the UAMS bid snugly, and to disfavor a plan submitted by friends of the Little Rock Zoo to use the adjacent ballpark property for a major expansion, including an elephant breeding program. The Zoo could pay the city nothing, for the land, of course, and the expansion would have to be accomplished with private donations.
(There might have been money for the Zoo in the national economic-stimulus package had not Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., won approval of an amendment prohibiting the use of stimulus funds for zoos, aquariums and anything else of educational value. Ironic, considering that the Zoo was built with economic stimulus money in the 1930s. Incidentally, Coburn and his colleague, Sen. James Inhofe, who insists there's no such thing as global warming, give Oklahoma what is arguably the worst Senate delegation of all. Arkansas's senators are giants by comparison.)
Any recreational use of the Ray Winder property would be better than the parking-lot option. We're reminded that UAMS is in the process of choosing a new chancellor. How marvelous if the new man should announce on taking office that the UAMS land grab is dead — how generous, wise and godly.