Sunday, November 21, 2010

Soles'n'Bowls

In the light of yesterday's Standard-Times' Editor's Letter from the Editor About Letters to the Editor, I'm throwing caution to the wind and posting gathered chunks of discarded journal entries about the Buttonwood Park Zoo NONtroversy. Before proceeding, I explicitly profess that the following is presented WITHOUT any demonstrable or conclusive research on my part. As is often the case here since I don't feel obligated to make phone calls or to carefully research my own diary because I happen to know some stuff from in my head already, regardless of you armchair editors and your demands suggestions. You will notice -- and likely ignore -- links that I provide to substantiate my remarks .

  • The Buttonwood Park Zoo is a popular tourist and educational attraction located within the borders of Buttonwood Park, both of which are owned and operated by the City of New Bedford. The Zoo currently displays local New England wildlife like coyotes, brown bears, mountain lions, cougars, and turkey vultures and features a petting zoo-quality historical farm exhibit with heritage domesticated animals like goats, hogs, and horses. It is quaint, if shopworn, but praised by the American Zoological Association as "one of the finest small zoos in the country."
  • Two fine old ladies.
  • The Zoo has been home to two well-treated superannuated Asian elephants. It is The Zoo's hope to expand Ruth and Emily's quarters in order to better portray the elephants' ancestral domain and add other Asian flora and fauna, including a possible third elephant, in accordance with AZA rules. A new exhibit is understood to renew the Zoo's attendance numbers and likely ensure its continued accreditation.
  • At this moment, the community's only paper, the Standard-Times is running headlines like:
    "SHOCKING ZOO EXPANSION DISRUPTS VERY FABRIC OF REALITY ITSELF!"
  • It's a pitched -- if one-sided -- battle waged on the limp and porous battlefield of the Op-Ed page, with salvos fired by annoying out-of-town elephant activists (who always act as their Google™Alerts and The Voices dictate) and some residents of the greenest city on the SouthCoast who fear that the "megazoo themepark expansion" will destroy huge swaths of Buttonwood Park's pristine wilderness, displacing thousands of rare and endangered plant and animal species.
  • There is no point in placing blame for any perceived "controversy." There isn't one. A few clever citizens MicrosoftOfficeWord98™ed up a few incendiary handouts and later backpedalled, admitting that they were "only trying get more people to take part in their city and show up at the meeting." Following the Tea Party playbook, they were excessive and inappropriate and ultimately off-putting.
  • Because they were wrong. They did not seem to know what the expansion entailed or what the Zoo was actually planning, or how their polite and constructive input would be worked into The Zoo's fully amendable draft plan. None of those passionate people were at the informational meeting that I attended in September, except for the President of the Friends of Buttonwood Park, who politely waited through the entire PowerPoint presentation and then read a letter of obstreperous opposition which had been written before the meeting had ever started.
  • The Anti-Zooers possess a proud SouthCoast character trait that enables them to admit that they "couldn't find any meeting notice" and "can't read that Zoo Master Plan" because it's "in Adobe and too big" or "hard to find on the city's website" or "you have to be an engineer to understand it." This trait (called "dumb") is related to the common SouthCoast paranoia known as "Suspecting that Something is Going on Behind the Scenes" because one is unaware of conventions, standards, or practices outside of one's ken.
  • The Friends of Buttonwood Park Incorporated was "founded in 1991" and have an address in Mattapoisett, according to their page on Guidestar, but was "established in 1986 in acordance with a recommendation of the Massachusetts DCA's 1986 Olmsted Master Plan for the Renewal of Buttonwood Park," according to their own website.
  • The Friends' dedication to maintaining the park grounds, educating, engaging and involving the public, city youth and other area organizations is obvious and sincere, so one can exonerate a few unreasonably disproportionate ownership issues, especially considering that New Bedford has three dozen or more parks, commons, playgrounds, tot lots, and beaches.
  • Lately, though, somebody has been posting photographs of park greenery on Facebook with arch captions full of inaccuracies, devoting themselves to circulating petitions to preserve untended land for future generations of litterers, and arguing that all of Buttonwood Park is sacred because of...
  • "The Olmsted Fallacy." Which goes a little something like this:
  • Nineteenth Century Mount Olympus landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted probably never saw the land now known as Buttonwood Park and was likely familiar with New Bedford because of the city's reputation in abolitionist circles years earlier. Olmsted's associate Charles Eliot -- or someone in Eliot's office since Eliot was dying in 1897 I now have it on impeccable authority that Eliot did, indeed draw this. But Olmsted was still senile -- drew this:Map 1 Which resembles the current configuration Map 2 only in its roughly quadrilateral appearance.
  • Note that there is a residential neighborhood in the northeast -- lower right -- corner and that Eliot's central water feature is currently a traffic rotary. Neither detail conforms to Olmsted's vision of a rich natural setting shielding visitors from the stresses of city life. But The Friends of Buttonwood Park have consulted with experts who have written books about Olmsted so that they can protect this resource better.from The Brady Bunch second season episode 'Double Parked,' one of the few that isn't totally double entendre-titled.
  • In the words of their President and former Buttonwood Park Zoo Director (seriously: WTF?) the Friends of Buttonwood Park are "the designated stewards of the Park ... mandated by the 1987 Master Plan to protect the historic vision for the Park which calls for a pastoral, naturalistic, and democratic setting where the urban population can enjoy both passive and active recreation unencumbered by barriers and fences." (from that "obstreperous objection" that I mentioned earlier)
  • "Active recreation" includes motoring. My automobile was once struck rather forcefully by a speeding hit and run driver blowing through the stop sign at Court Street and Rockdale. I guess the serenity was too bucolic for that particular park visitor.
  • Charles Eliot died of spinal meningitis in 1897. New Bedford -- although once eager to consider some plan for the land -- cooled its fervor for both whaling and gardening and "shelved" the plan, forgetting about arbors and such.
  • Until the 1980s, when someone in New Bedford put the names "Olmsted" and "Buttonwood Park" together and state grant money suddenly appeared. Customary inordinate SouthCoast Catholic-style guilt demands that we insist on the fiction loudly at every opportunity. So everyone sort of believes the fanciful story of Olmsted's alleged relationship to The Whaling City that was concocted by someone eager to squeeze a few shekels out of a vague connection. (Although I suspect that I know the individual's identity, largely based on one particular citizen's excessively hysterical reactions at public discussions of the Zoo's master plan.)
  • In the Nineties when I first enjoyed its convenient pastorality, I was under the impression that Buttonwood Park had been laid out by the guy who designed Central Park. Because everybody else said so. (Unfortunately, I also thought that the landscaper was Andrew Jackson Downing, until I was informed that it was Olmsted. Which it wasn't.)
  • On a (recently removed) website promoting a New Bedford bed and breakfast, Buttonwood Park was described as "the largest and most visited public park in New Bedford is often referred to as the 'Crown Jewel' of the New Bedford Park System ." The b&b also touted its location as near "the newly renovated Zoo in Buttonwood Park, designed and planted by Frederick Law Olmsted." So it's just treated as common knowledge, and it's on the Internet, so it must be true. (The "largest" park in New Bedford is actually Brooklawn Park.)
  • "Whaddaya you people want, TREES and ROCKS?" barked a famous local developer a few years back when he proposed some stripmall or other in Tiverton on land that somebody considered green, public, and protected. I was outraged by the developer's neon urban sprawl scheming. "Yes," I smugly retorted, "yes, I DO want trees and rocks." But I also remember his "rocks don't pay taxes" line.
  • The Buttonwood Park Zoo and its associated Society contribute payroll and sales taxes to the state and federal governments. Although the city of New Bedford subsidizes the Zoo's operational budget, the municipal contribution would be less with a new exhibit raising both membership and attendance.
  • Because a better-looking, more successful Zoo would make more money.
  • Because the cursed SouthCoast always sets its sights on the shabby, it matters not that the Zoo lose its signature pachyderm attractions, forfeit its accreditation, sacrifice the substantial funding opportunities that are associated with professional recognition, and emerge finally as a pretty swell petting zoo.
  • ''DAH-ling! In a serene appreciation of your naturalistic setting kind of way, I mean.''
  • So, of course, The Friends of Buttonwood Park But Not Of The Zoo -- encouraged by the newspaper's manufactured "Zoo versus Park" nonsense -- will further demonize the Zoo in their ill-advised absurd campaign of misinformation and bad sportsmanship.
(This presentation features photographs of Joan Crawford and an elephant, Florence Henderson and Barry Williams, some maps, and Zsa Zsa Gabor.)

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