It’s not easy being green.
~Kermit the Frog
Think back on your favorite long-running sitcom.
Now think back on the very first episode or even the first full season. Chances are that in its very early days it doesn’t feel exactly the same as what the show would become in its maturity.
One of the top binge-worthy favorites in my household is “Seinfeld,” the show that famously declared that it was a show about nothing. In retrospect, some its early episodes feel a little awkward, the pacing we would come to love wasn’t quite there yet, and the character Kramer feels almost creepy as compared to the “hipster doofus” that the character Elaine would describe years later in the show’s run.
Oh the roots of the show were very much there – it was very different from anything we had seen and it was after all what attracted us in the first place – but over each season the show became more refined, its characters more realized and its pacing more spot-on as its writers, producers and cast whittled each show down to the core of what made it so funny and watchable.
If the creators of the show had stuck with the formula of the first couple of seasons, it might not have become the legendary show it became. Or, folks might have stopped watching.
This analogy works in other valuable and valiant efforts across many platforms.
Rare is the famous novelist who had a bestseller the first time out. It takes years to refine their novel-writing craft, and the version of their first book that we finally saw at the bookstore was the result of a multiple drafts.
Movie screenplays follow the same evolution, and many screenplay drafts feel nothing like the movie that finally appears on the big screen.
Even in construction, the analogy can apply.
The top of New York’s iconic Empire State Building is called a mooring mast for a reason: it was built as a possible docking station for dirigibles. In fact, docking was attempted quite a few times before engineers realized there was nothing they could do to deal with the updrafts that made docking too dangerous.
The mooring mast didn’t work as a place for dirigibles to rest, but it sure worked for King Kong before he collapsed to his death – it adapted and was adopted as a great place for radio and TV antennas that later extended the building’s height.
Our own Memphis 3.0 Comprehensive Plan had no mooring mast in its early versions, but it too had seen revisions and changes since its first draft was released back in December, which itself was drafted out of two years of community input.
Novels, screenplays, TV shows, buildings, city plans – to survive and thrive, the early versions had to evolve and adapt, either to realities or to finally arrive at the core of their purpose.
The idea applies also to the paper you hold in your hands.
Each month and with each issue we have revised, redrafted, whittled, played around, moved around, restructured, added, subtracted.
In November we added an original word puzzle (thank you Randy and Eva); in December we added a Planning Board; in January a crossword puzzle; last month the Style Board.
We have responded to reader feedback. More photos. Check. More color. Check. Shorter stories. Um, mostly check? Less “continued on page…” Yes, you’re right. Check.
This paper won’t survive and thrive unless we evolve and respond. And the hope here is that you readers realize that you have a say in how this community journal progresses. The very concept of this publication was rooted in community engagement, and it must continue with community engagement.
Drafts. Concepts. Early versions are but a foundation. A creation has to start somewhere. A sketch is a sketch. And survival means evolution.
These ideas, finally, apply to something else that has been a hot topic of late: The Memphis Riverfront and Tom Lee Park.
I understand and completely empathize with all those – from the Memphis In May organizers to each and every Memphian who has an opinion about the concept plans for Tom Lee Park (see the front page and features throughout the online version of the Green issue) – who are concerned or even disturbed or outraged over the proposed changes to Tom Lee Park.
The commentary has been all over the place:
It’s too busy. What are these “pools?” Why mess with it if it works as is? You’re taking Riverside Drive down to two lanes? It’s dumb. It’s too much. Who’s going to maintain this? What about police presence? And where’s Music and BBQ Fest going to go?
I get it. I really do.
Memphis has had a recent history of million-dollar riverfront developments that didn’t quite work as planned: the Mud Island monorail is more known for a Tom Cruise chase than for a destination for Memphians; the Pyramid didn’t work as a music venue nor a sports arena.
However not many are arguing that in general something must be done to revitalize our historic and vital riverfront.
Once one big loading dock for cotton and other products and goods, like almost every other shipping destination in the country it now must serve as a place to recreate.
For entertainment, for sunshine, for health, to be closer to nature, etc. etc., the riverfront is still Memphis’s greatest asset. The city literally would not have been founded if not for its position on the Mississippi River and the buffer of the bluffs.
And the concepts and drafts of a new Memphis Riverfront submitted by Studio Gang are just that: drafts and concepts. The plans presented do not equate to bulldozers and the sudden dismissal of Memphis in May; they are ideas meant to inspire critical changes to our riverfront. Ideas that may see some evolution before being finally adapted.
However the critical and vitriolic reactions to the plans begs a deep, psychological question: Is Memphis afraid of change? I do wonder at times if the city suffers from some level of trauma after seeing Beale Street bulldozed post-MLK and half of downtown turning into a parking lot in the 1970s.
But that discussion will have to wait for another time, another issue.
Because we at StoryBoard still have work to do. Like those sitcoms, novels, screenplays, plans plans plans, we are still evolving, responding, adapting.
We’re still Green.
(And thanks to David W. for inspiring the use of “whittle.”)
Feature photo credit: Postcard of Riverside Drive. 1950s. “Riverside Drive — with the mighty Mississippi at the left, and the Memphis skyline in the background.” Memphis Public Library