Located on a great bluff, Memphis has been defined by its relationship to the Mississippi River for centuries. Opening to the public in 2023, the new Tom Lee Park signifies a turning point in the city’s relationship to the river—a national model for inclusive and ecologically restorative urban parks.
Extending 31 acres along the Mississippi, the park’s overall design is organized into a series of programmatic zones that mimic the dynamic hydrology and sediment flows of the Mississippi River—with forms inspired by riffles, pools, micro-deltas, and tailouts—weaving together circulation and topography into spaces that showcase hardy riparian ecosystems. At its northern end, the park introduces a new ADA-accessible entrance at Cutbank Bluff, connecting to key civic spaces including the Cossitt Library, National Civil Rights Museum, and the new Brooks Museum. Beneath the entire park, a restored soil system supports over a thousand new trees and lush native plantings. Over 300 new oaks support a vast array of bird and insect life at a key stopover point in the Mississippi Flyway, reintroducing a piece of historic bluff and bottomlands canopy.
Incorporating input from thousands of Memphians, the park features a range of flexible civic spaces for sports and fitness, multi-generational play, environmental education, events, concerts, and more. At the park’s center, a permanent installation by the artist Theaster Gates, A Monument to Listening, has been funded through a $1.4 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, accompanied by a docent program in partnership with the National Civil Rights Museum. The park was named in 1954 for Tom Lee, a Memphis hero and Black river worker who saved 32 people from a sinking steamboat in the Mississippi.
Tom Lee Park was collaboratively designed by SCAPE (as landscape architect) and Studio Gang (as master planner and architect). The park broke ground at Cutbank Bluff in 2020 and is anticipated to open to the public on Labor Day weekend 2023.
- Memphis River Parks Partnership (MRPP)
Studio Gang (Co-Design Lead, Master Planner & Architect)
Montgomery Martin (Contractor)
Kimley-Horn (Civil Engineer)
Thornton Tomasetti (Structural Engineer)
Innovative Engineering Services (M/E/P Engineer)
DataBased+ (Sustainability Analysis)
Randy Burkett Lighting Design (Lighting)
Theaster Gates (Artist)
Monstrum (Playground Designer)