Save Gilchrist: Green space needed

December 11, 2015
By Marcy Shortuse

To the Editor:
First of all, I want to publicly applaud Buzzy Stevenson and the GICIA for initiating the drive to save the Mercado property for the benefit of all Boca Grande. The outpouring of positive responses proves the conviction that everyone has to protect our island environment and preserve our limited, treasured green space. It is my hope that this worthy project could trigger a new and more objective look at the value of saving the median on Gilchrist Avenue, the “gateway” between the historical district and the south end of the island.
When I finished reading the extensive coverage about the Gilchrist median in this past week’s Boca Beacon, I had to wonder where many of the ideas that were presented originated. As a member of the Gilchrist Neighborhood Association, I did not recognize some of the statements that were attributed to our group. The most outstanding example of what I am referring to is the accusation that the neighbors advocate cutting down 200 casuarina trees on First Street. Never, under any circumstances, would any of us suggest cutting down a single tree anywhere in Boca Grande. From the beginning, our whole reasoning in wanting to return the Gilchrist median to its original intention as a linear park has been focused on the preservation of historical green space for all of Boca Grande to enjoy.
To clarify another point, many months ago the neighborhood came together in full agreement that there should be eleven parking spaces on the median in front of each of the three churches to accommodate those who are truly handicapped. After careful observation on Sunday mornings, it is our conviction that there are adequate alternatives for all others to park and walk one or two blocks. To sacrifice the potential beauty of the median for the habit of convenience parking is against all the principles of conscientious island conservation.
Many years ago, when I lived in Memphis, Tennessee, there was a concerted effort to construct a highway through Overton Park. One of the main arguments was the need to make it convenient for those who lived in the suburbs to drive downtown to their offices faster. The mayor and the City Council led the movement, which included some of the most powerful business leaders in Memphis. A small group of people who believed in the park came together and fought for its preservation. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Overton Park finally prevailed, and the highway was not built. One of the statements that came from the court afterwards was: “… it should be the national policy that special effort should be made to preserve the natural beauty of the countryside and public park and recreation lands.”
I would like to conclude this letter with a few lines from a famous Joni Mitchell song of regret for what happened in Hawaii. She wrote that they “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Her final words were: “… you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
I would urge everyone in Boca Grande to look past all the temporal arguments in favor of convenient parking on the median and seriously consider what we once had on Gilchrist Avenue — an historical green space that enhanced the beauty and the serenity of this lovely town — our paradise — and do not let it go away.
Alice Bingham Gorman
Boca Grande