Seniors Reflect on Behind-the-Scenes Tour of New Tom Lee Park
By Conchita Topinka
Seniors had a lot to say about the Tom Lee Park redevelopment after a recent Rogers Scholars excursion. And that's the point of these forays into the community. “They keep us aware of what is happening in our city, ultimately making us more well-rounded citizens,” said Emma Couch ’23.
Described by proponents as “the next civic jewel” and a new “front door” for the city of Memphis, the Tom Lee Park redesign will transform the downtown riverfront. It is exactly the type of civic project that Nick Simpson, Director of the Institute for Responsible Citizenship, wants girls to sink their teeth into. Hutchison’s Rogers Scholars, a group of upper school seniors and juniors, recently toured the park and met with staff from the Memphis River Parks Partnership.
“Rogers Scholars and other Institute programming provide our girls real-world engagement with Memphis organizations, allowing them to think deeply about the growth and development of our city,” Simpson said. “Before long, these young women will be able to vote. We want every one of them to do so as informed members of our community who ask questions about public policy, budgeting, expenditure, and what is best for Memphians.”
After the visit to Tom Lee Park, girls met at school to share their impressions of the new park and discuss the venture’s viability. Several students said they were not likely to travel downtown to use the park, but they appreciated its potential. Emma Couch ’23 noted that it is the type of development Memphis needs in order to keep pace with other southern cities vying for tourists and large employers.
“Modernization is crucial for Memphis to be on a level playing field with other emerging cities. When there is a choice to be made about where to live, aesthetics and reputation play just as big a role as the functional and practical aspects of the city,” said Couch, assessing the project on a macro level. “As Memphians, we need to put our city’s future first and foremost. If this park helps build Memphis’s tourist portfolio, that will directly benefit our city and its people. If this park successfully drives tourism downtown, that is putting money in the pockets of the downtown small business owners, restaurants, and many other establishments.”
Other students viewed the development in the context of the community’s many challenges. “Developing the park is a good idea to a certain extent, considering the other issues that Memphis is currently experiencing, such as food insecurity and socioeconomic inequality,” said Zain Amro ’23, adding that visiting the park is an effective way to engage with the Memphis community. “I was able to observe each individual construction project that was being made near the river. After looking at the developments, I also had the opportunity to discuss the developments and specific concerns regarding the park as well as some solutions for those specific concerns.”
Simpson said the visit to the Memphis River Parks Partnership generated a great deal of discussion about how that organization’s work will benefit the city, and how it has been funded. The girls were curious about the criteria that would ultimately affect the success of the venture, and they asked the personnel managing the project for contextual information, he added.
“It was fascinating to hear the girls discuss and evaluate how we develop a fair and healthy community and which of the big issues in our city should be prioritized,” Simpson said. “Hutchison’s strong academic program introduces girls to concepts such as civic engagement and the role of the citizen in governmental policy making. These and many other ideas are explored further through extracurricular programming provided by the Institute for Responsible Citizenship.”
Couch summarized the latest Rogers Scholars excursion this way: “These trips serve as an educational resource, but most importantly, they keep us aware of what is happening in our city, ultimately making us more well-rounded citizens.”