OPINION: Proposition 203 and What’s Being Taken From Me?

By Kevin Murphy

Pending community outreach from the City of Tucson and the Zoological Society, Reid Park Zoo’s “Pathway to Asia” expansion that was set to replace Barnum Hill and the south duck pond has been temporarily halted by mayor Regina Romero.

The proposed expansion is a part of proposition 203, which passed in 2017: a decade-long taxpayer funded $80 million plan that would fund zoo improvements, maintenance, and operation costs. 

Some believe that Proposition 203 was misleading, arguing the legislation didn’t specifically reference expanding into the Barnum Hill area of the park. Though the Reid Park Zoo and the Tucson City Council held several public meetings on the proposition, many of the meetings occurred after the legislation had already passed.

While both sides of this issue have their respective arguments about losing what was rightfully theirs, one thing is certain: people don’t appreciate what they have until it is threatened to be taken away from them. It’s just human nature.

Children don’t truly appreciate their toys until their parents threaten to take them away from them. People don’t truly honor their loved ones, or their own lives, until that dreaded terminal diagnosis comes in. Last week, my cat had a urethral blockage that cost my fiancée and I most of our recently acquired stimulus money, and now I’m suddenly spending every spare waking moment of the day checking on the once stray cat.  Just like the government stimulus money, I didn’t truly appreciate the cat until it was almost spent (the one cool thing that came out of the situation is we’re thinking of making bumper stickers that read “Joe Biden saved my cat,” but I digress). 

Is the situation with zoo expansion overtaking Barnum Hill and the adjacent pond a metaphor for our sudden desire to keep the things that are being taken from us?  For that matter, could you argue the same point if the zoo decided to move to Casa Grande because of a lack of fiscal support from Tucson?  Would every Tucsonan and their cousin from Benson that wasn’t supporting the Reid Park Zoo on a regular basis suddenly protest the loss to the community?

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, I walked around the Barnum Hill area of Reid Park.  The beautiful green and blue oasis is surrounded by an urban desert scenery that is shriveling on all sides as a result of human-made climate change, exemplifying another sign of us not appreciating what we have until it’s almost gone.  There are ducks, geese, and turtles swimming in the pond under a lush green canopy of tall trees, with rocky waterfalls trickling down Barnum hill. 

As I walked around, I recalled fond memories visiting the area with my family as a child, but I only remember coming back to enjoy this place a handful of times in the more than 30 years that I’ve lived in Tucson. There were only a dozen or so people enjoying the beautiful area. Granted, it was a Tuesday afternoon during a pandemic, but I thought I would see more people enjoying this free outdoor green space. Where are all the people that claim this hallowed ground as a centerpiece to their life?

As I walked back to my car in the parking lot of the zoo, I noticed that the lot was a quarter full at best. I also have many fond memories at Reid Park Zoo as a child, but I can’t even count the times on one hand that I’ve been back since to enjoy the place. Where are all the people that claim to appreciate this invaluable Tucson treasure? Are they waiting for the expansion to bring tigers, red pandas, and other new exotic animals to the zoo before they appreciate its value? 

Maybe it was an off day.  

My point here is not necessarily to advocate for saving the Barnum Hill area or pushing for a zoo expansion into the area of Barnum Hill (to be perfectly honest, it seems Proposition 203 was poorly worded and deceiving to the public), my point is that humans only truly appreciate things when they are threatened to be taken from them. In a world where political divide drives the narrative on the surface, deep down are we simply just desperate Golem-like creatures searching for our collective “precious” that has been stolen from our possession? Judging by the public outcry of Proposition 203 on both sides of the issue, the sad answer may very well be “yes.”

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