Choosing between a park and a parking lot should be easy. Little Rock is lousy with parking lots, but it has only one War Memorial Park, an institution that has long provided recreation for the central city, serving many residents who don’t have easy access to other recreational facilities. It’s a haven of greenery surrounded by concrete.
Technically, the choice now facing city officials is whether to allow a parking lot to cover one area of the park only, that where the vacant Ray Winder Field sits. But everyone knows, including self-centered parking-lot proponents, that once pavers are allowed into the park, they’ll get it all. A few more cars can’t hurt, some entrepreneur will say, and maybe there should be a hamburger dispensary too, in case these new parkers want a snack. Maybe a drive-through bank, or a dry cleaner’s. It’s all progress. Nobody’s making a dime off this grass.
Three proposals have been submitted for use of the ballpark property, whose former occupants, the Arkansas Travelers, have moved to fancy new quarters in North Little Rock. The Little Rock Zoo would like to expand into the area, breed elephants, bring in new species. Large and grand — and financed by private money — this project is sure to be well received by the public. And the public in this case is the whole state. The Little Rock Zoo is the only zoo in Arkansas; it contributes much to the quality of life.
Two different groups want to continue playing ball on the old ballfield. This would be amateur baseball — high schools, colleges, even leagues for mature competitors who aren’t ready to hang up their gloves. It’s a reasonable concept, consistent with the park’s purposes.
And then there’s the proposal of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to tear down the ballpark and use the land for parking. How is this best described? “Audacious,” “rapacious,” “outrageous”? Suitably negative adjectives abound. There is only one proper response by the city, and that is unequivocal rejection. To give up green space for asphalt is backward thinking. Enlightened city governments are well past that stage.
One other thing: War Memorial Park is not just a place to sport and picnic, it’s a glue that helps hold the city together, keeping the two Little Rocks from drifting even further apart. There’s a significant degree of racial integration at WMP, whites and blacks playing on the same golf course, reuniting with friends and relatives on the same grounds. Black and white parking side by side is somehow not the same. Wal-Mart has that.