The first phases of two long-awaited greenways are becoming a reality.

On a cold February night in 2007, more than 800 people packed the Memphis Botanic Garden’s Hardin Hall for the first “Greening Greater Memphis” public meeting. Cars overflowed the lot onto Cherry Road, and many attendees were forced to stand at the back of the room or in the hallway.

Despite the crowded conditions, most of them stayed. It may have been one of the most well-attended public meetings in recent city history, and it didn’t involve a controversial development or the threat of demolishing a historic structure.

Instead, attendees came out to show their support for a plan to make Memphis a more walkable, bikeable city.

Shelby Farms parks consultant Alex Garvin, Greater Memphis Greenline president Bob Schreiber, Wolf River Conservancy’s former director Keith Kirkland, and Shelby Farms Park Conservancy deputy director Laura Adams talked about plans for the construction of two greenways — the Wolf River Greenway and the Greater Memphis Greenline — and major improvements to the 4,000-acre Shelby Farms Park.

When the greenways projects are complete, the attendees were told, a person will be able to walk or bike from downtown to Cordova. Some touted the benefits such exercise opportunities offer to a city ranked one of the unhealthiest in America.

Others praised the connectivity the trails offer to poor, middle-class, and affluent neighborhoods.

Fast forward to 2010: Though a walking path connecting downtown to Cordova is still years away, construction is expected to begin this week on the first stretches of both the Wolf River Greenway and the Greater Memphis Greenline. By the end of this summer, a mile of the Wolf River Greenway and nearly seven miles of the Greater Memphis Greenline should be open for bikers, runners, and walkers to enjoy.

Though not considered part of the original Greening Greater Memphis plan, the Germantown Greenway also is expanding and eventually will link to the Wolf River Greenway. That means Memphians will someday be able to walk or bike from downtown all the way to Germantown.

The greenways may not end Memphis’ designation as a “fat city,” but it will mean more opportunities for folks to get moving and to explore parts of the city previously hidden from view.