Tom (Yusha) Sager
The Misfit Mathematician

tom (at)

Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2007
Rolla's Story of the Year:
Buehler Park

With the New Year close at hand, it's time to recap the most important stories of 2007; so I will devote this column to Buehler Park, a most extraordinary story; and it happened right here in Rolla.

Buehler Park proved once again, YOU CAN BEAT CITY HALL; but, as my friend and mentor, the late Norma Anderson, used to tell me, only if you spend every waking moment doing it. The cards are all stacked against you. You finance both sides: your side with your own money and energy, the City's through your taxes. City bureaucrats and politicians risk nothing of their own. If you lose - it's all over. If you win - don't let your guard down.

Some “What's the big deal about a three acre city park?”

Answer 1: It’s dedicated land -- given “for Park purposes only and non other ... FOREVER.” If the City of Rolla could turn Buehler Park into a restaurant district, what would stop our University from turning Castleman Hall into research laboratories?

Big winners in the Buehler Park case were entities like UMR that rely on gifts from the public, public-spirited individuals who give a portion of their wealth for the public good, and the public which makes use of these gifts. Three not-for-profit organizations, Diabetes Education Fund, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, and Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Rolla, entered the case as Friends of the Court, citing this reason.

Sadly, UMR chose to sit on the sidelines.

Answer 2: Urban green space is a necessary component of quality urban life. While this fact seems to have escaped Rolla City Hall, there is increased understanding of the importance of green spaces among the public at large. Perhaps, in part, this made the difference between the 1997 case which ended in stalemate, and the 2007 case which ended in victory for the people.

Answer 3: Buehler Park is a boon to businesses which draw customers off the Interstate. It’s an asset to the entire City through sales and lodging taxes from travelers who, were it not for Buehler Park, might chose to stop elsewhere. Interstate exits with parks, restaurants and motels within a few blocks are rare and highly sought after, particularly by travelers with young children.

The biggest commercial winners were the owners of nearby restaurants who would not only have lost Buehler Park, but would also have faced increased competition from the new restaurant district. Sadly, many of these businesses sided with the City. The City and Chamber of Commerce still do nothing to advertise or enhance Buehler Park

Answer 4: Buehler Park set legal precedent. Our biggest legal hurdle was to convince the Court that we had standing to sue. This is the first time since 1910 that a Missouri court has ruled that users of public property can sue to uphold that use.

Without our attorneys at Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, it is unlikely that we could have prevailed in court. Buehler Park demonstrates the importance of public interest not-for-profit legal advocates.

It also demonstrates the need for simplifying the law and making the courts more accessible to ordinary citizens. Sadly, none of our state legislators with whom I discussed this legal reform, Rep. Bob May, Sen. Frank Barnitz, and former Sen. (now Treasurer) Sarah Steelman, showed any interest in championing the Right of Missouri’s citizens to have easy access to the courts.

So visit Buehler Park, enjoy it, and think about how much poorer Rolla would be without it.

Have a blessed Kwanzaa and a happy New Year. I'll be back next week.

To G. Pardee: Michael Klare in The Pentagon vs. Peak Oil estimates the U.S. military burns 3.5 million barrels of oil daily for combat operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan. This is 17 percent of U.S. total usage; and doesn't include domestic military usage, usage in other theatres, or usage by military contractors or industries.

Isaiah, whom I quoted in my Dec. 11 column, is prophet to over half of humanity: Muslims, Jews, and (as you point out) Christians.

Maybe you could go tell the victims of extreme drought in Atlanta or the victims of the recent wildfires in California how you “would welcome the utter ecological chaos” if you “could have some decent shopping options.” While you are there, enjoy the excellent shopping experiences these locations offer.

(Tom Sager is a retired mathematics professor at the University of Missouri - Rolla. His column appears weekly.)