The announcement for the Shelby Farms competition was forwarded to the firm I work for a mere couple of weeks before the due date, which was disappointing as it seemed like a great one. Judging from the finalists, we were not wrong, with strong submittals from Field Operations, Hargreaves Associates, and Tom Leader Studio. Here’s some brief narrative excerpt and the boards (all images via Shelby Farms Park Conservancy):
“Shelby Farms Park is already today an amazing reserve of public parkland and amenity. It’s huge scale offers an extraordinary resource for people who are interested in large-scale recreation activities – strolling, jogging, cycling, roller-blading, picnicking, dog walking, swimming, camping, horse-back riding, dog training, fishing, shooting, gardening and the like. It’s agricultural heritage is also a great resource for land husbandry practices, including farming, research, energy, education and markets.
“Our design vision amplifies these trends toward higher intensity and variety of uses. New entrances, pathways, plantings and facilities will shape a more defined and beautiful identity for the Park as a whole. In the center will be a magnificent new lake, three times the size of the current lake, supporting a wide range of non-motorized water sport activities. Twelve distinctive landscapes will each support certain uses and activities, allowing a coherent “place” structure for the many varied user groups set within a larger Park setting.
“Continuing the agricultural heritage of the site, the new Park becomes a large-scale public place of cultivation, growth, production, health and wellbeing (as in a sports farm, an arts farm, a culture farm, an energy farm, a tree farm, as well as the more familiar land husbandry farm). In this way, traditional land practices are hybridized with 21st-century health and recreation uses – a new ecology of place.“
“Shelby Farms can be a GREAT LARGE PARK – a park of significance for all of Memphis and its surrounding region, serving as a recreational and cultural destination while allowing citizens to discover a renewed relationship with natural systems, agricultural heritage, and outstanding scenery. It is an opportunity unparalleled in any other city: 4500 acres dedicated to a park at the heart of the Shelby County, accessible to downtown Memphis, and at the nexus of the Wolf River Greenway and the future CSX rails to trails.
We have approached the site by examining the site-specific qualities that make it a beloved destination today: expansive fields, sweeping views, spectacular sunsets, rolling hills, nestled lakes, extensive walking trails, equestrian trails and events, farm lands, hands-on learning about agriculture and nature, a country drive, and bottomland forests. There is much at Shelby Farms Park to be discovered. We have integrated those elements by creating a multi-layered design that intertwines the various existing areas of the park. A network of landscape and movement systems provides for recreation and access by foot, by bike, by horse, by shuttle…and by boat. A system of beautiful lakes that reflect the memorable Memphis sky allows a connection to the river – both real and metaphorical as well as a whole new movement system on the site – and the park’s new name: Shelby Lakes Park.“
Tom Leader Studio:
“All you have to do is read the name. The history of farming is the most useful way of thinking when looking toward the future of Shelby Farms Park. This is a huge piece of land that has been in the process of breaking down into 3 or 4 separate domains. Due to the size and available resources, the only viable strategy for creating a singular park is to work closely and dramatically in partnership with nature. That’s what farmers do – they closely study the soil, climate, hydrology, transport, market, and come up with a plan for cultivation that builds on the best aspects of their land. This is a plan for cultivating a very big park. This is how you grow Memphis.
“What does that mean? It means we have introduced a whole series of crops that are not literally corn or soybeans but things that address some current issues in the city. For example, health and fitness – howto reverse the trend toward obesity and type 2 diabetes? By developing a substantial local organic farm, restaurant, and sustainable food scene where little currently exists – spawning a whole new green industry. By greatly expanding enjoyable ways to get exercise – swimming, canoeing, trail running, hiking over a vast network. By harvesting enough solar energy to take the park off the grid. By creating a home for the native Memphis music scene – a place where local bands and musicians can gather, find studio space, find a ready-made audience on a big lake with a beach, a place for performance at all scales. These and several other important “crops” for Memphis are what we want to grow here at Shelby Farms Park.”