Other Voices

Fort Worth poised to end Botanic Garden as we’ve known it; here’s who it’ll hurt most

The great Texas naturalist John Graves wrote Goodbye to a River in 1959, an ode or obituary to the once free and wonderful Brazos River.

It’s time, sadly, for a similar ode or obituary to the once free and wonderful Fort Worth Botanic Garden. The garden we knew and loved is disappearing at the hands of the Fort Worth City Council. Our city leaders are on the verge of privatizing — taking from the general public — one of our most cherished public spaces.

On Tuesday, during the council work session, city staff presented one of the most Orwellian public documents I have read since leaving the Texas Legislature. It consistently misuses the word “accessibility” when what leaders are actually talking about is marketability for tourism purposes — at Fort Worth residents’ expense.

On the second slide of the presentation, the staff report makes an oblique reference to the barely secret plan to privatize the garden in the near future, stating that “governance of the Garden should transition to nonprofit management.” This statement was slipped in and directly contradicts public assurances that council member Dennis Shingleton made in a meeting last fall.

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The Fort Worth Botanic Garden is in need of $15 million in repairs. An admission fee is one of the proposals to help eliminate the repair bill. David Kent dkent@star-telegram.com

The third slide calls for the garden to be a “world class museum.” What it does not say is that the elites who want this museum want to create it at the expense of the working poor and middle class.

Slides four and five perpetuate the myth that imposing a fee, any fee, increases accessibility. It is a well-studied fact that fees for public goods increase desirability, not accessibility.

Unfortunately, since the earliest stages of the civil-rights movement, we have witnessed on innumerable occasions that certain elites find public resources more desirable when they are less accessible to people of color and working-class folks — look no further than the reduced number of public swimming pools in Fort Worth. During this process, I have heard comments to this effect on more than one occasion and from more than one source.

Slide seven suggests an entry fee of $12 per adult. Has the staff done a market analysis? Either P. T. Barnum or an anonymous con man said that “there is a fool born every minute.” How many residents of Fort Worth who have enjoyed free access to the Botanic Garden since 1933 will pay this amount before any promised improvements are made?

I could go on providing a critique of the remaining slides, which continue in the same vein. They demonstrate the collusion between the power elite that wants the rest of us to help pay for their soon-to-be-privatized tourist attraction at the expense of the common good.

This is understood in some circles, but is not general knowledge. It may not have always been the “Fort Worth Way,” but in the 21st century, we must say goodbye to our beloved garden. Unfortunately, it’s just a metaphor for modern life in what’s left of the Garden of Eden.

Lon Burnam served central Fort Worth in the Texas House for 18 years and is chairman of the Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness.
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