MLK Square: A Unique Park in Downtown Conway

There is more to MLK Square in downtown Conway than meets the eye. At first glance, it seems like an ordinary, everyday downtown park with green space, walking and a playground for kids. But MLK Square recognizes a rich history in the area, and provides an important service to businesses in the area, too. 

MLK Square honors the history of the Black business district formerly housed on Markham Street, the street where the park is now located. The square pays tribute to the legacy and identity of the community by honoring important figures in Conway’s Black community like William T. Mattison, a Tuskegee Airman.  

These individuals and their contributions are highlighted through large granite pavers woven into the park walkway. The square tells the stories of people who made an impact on the local, state, and national level. 

Additionally, the park is dedicated to the life, legacy and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In February, the City of Conway unveiled a Unity sculpture to honor the work of King. 

"MLK Square tells a beautiful story of redemption and reconciliation,” Walden said. “An environmental hazard reclaimed and used to heal the natural environment. A public space created to bring people together across divides, honoring the life and work of an American hero whose dream was an equal and undivided people.” 

A major benefit of MLK Square is the creation of a new, high-quality public space.  

“The area is envisioned as a place to loiter and congregate,” Walden said. “It will become a place for gatherings, festivals and celebrations, as well as a respite from daily life for people to simply enjoy and be. As any good public space, it will reflect the identity and culture of its surroundings.” 

MLK Square is also the newest site for a sustainable low-impact development park that provides community green space on a reclaimed brownfield site.  

“By replacing pipes and concrete with living biological systems, parks like MLK Square are setting an example of how we can use soft engineering to better manage polluted storm water runoff,” said James Walden, the city’s former director of planning and development. “MLK Square will use time as a key ally in fighting floods, which have been a persistent problem in downtown Conway since its founding. The square’s detention function will slow the release of water from the site during heavy rain events.” 

While the feature won’t alleviate every drainage issue in downtown, it’s a valuable down payment on a new approach to solving flooding in the area, said city engineer Kurt Jones. 

“MLK Square will also use the power of plants to help heal its natural surroundings by using organic features like rain gardens and bioswales to help treat stormwater,” Walden said. “The intent is that water exiting the park will be cleaner than when it entered.” 

This occurs through a treatment train effect where stormwater is slowed, allowed to absorb back into the ground or evaporate, and pollutants and sediment are captured in rain gardens or bioswales. Plants then use phytoremediation to capture pollutants and break them down into less harmful materials.