Memphis is located on a great bluff that rises above the Mississippi River. The city’s riverfront has always been an important trading hub, but like many river cities, Memphis turned its back on the river, leaving its shoreline primarily for industrial and logistical uses.
Building on this history and inspired by the regional riparian ecologies of Tennessee, the re-imagined design for Tom Lee Park will reconnect the city to the river. The new vision for Tom Lee Park opens up access points, frames panoramic views of the river, and accommodates a flexible range of uses that will adapt with time. Inspired by the dynamic, natural sediment and flow patterns of the Mississippi River in the form of riffles, pools, micro-deltas and tailouts, the design weaves together circulation and topography into gathering areas with intimate spaces that showcase the native ecology of Tennessee alongside broad, expansive open lawns for recreation and civic gathering.
Designed to welcome all, the park’s landscape and architectural features will support a diverse array of activities and elevate them with the living backdrop of the Mississippi. To open up access to the park and create a welcoming sense of arrival, the design includes five new and improved entrances with defined landing points that extend from connecting streets, including the iconic Beale Street. The new entrances tie into a city-wide network of riverfront walking and biking trails, creating direct connections to key civic assets and institutions such as the Cossitt Library, National Civil Rights Museum, and the future home of the Brooks Museum of Art. Incorporating the ideas and input of thousands of Memphians, the park also accommodates spaces for sports and fitness, children’s play, outdoor education, community dinners and dances, private events, concerts, festivals, and more.
Throughout the park, planting and landforms will frame open views of the river and provide shade and shelter. A restored soil system will nourish a robust riparian pallette that highlights the beauty of regional landscapes while creating habitat for wildlife. Native trees, shrubs, and vibrant perennials will comprise an ever-changing landscape along the dynamic riverfront. Well-adapted to life at the Mississippi’s edge, these plants make the park a resilient and ever-changing place that marks the passage of the seasons—a peaceful spot within the city for Memphians to reconnect with each other and nature’s rhythms.
- Memphis River Parks Partnership