The Chattanooga Way – How a city comes together to make a difference

October 15th, 2013

Walking bridge

As a city girl from New York and Los Angeles, who currently lives in a small desert town just outside of Joshua Tree National Park, Chattanooga as I recently experienced it, is a breath of fresh air.

That’s a big deal for a city that 20 years ago was considered the dirtiest and most polluted city in the country. Today Chattanooga is called innovative, progressive and livable.

My first visit to Chattanooga was for a conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) from October 2 to October 8 and I found myself enjoying the reinvented urban landscape, the public art, the easy walking access, the good restaurants, and the welcoming friendly atmosphere.

Kim White, President and CEO of River City Company invited me to sit in on a charrette, an intense collaborative city-planning meeting, for the downtown center. There were somewhere between 300 to 400 people. As I looked around the room I saw a number of city leaders, a cross section of residents, students, and people who traveled from other cities just to observe the Chattanooga process.

As the meeting got started, people took their place at tables of about 7 or 8 people. The Leader of the meeting explained we would first introduce ourselves and then go around our respective tables answering a handful of questions: “When you think of Chattanooga 20 years from now what do you think of? Name three adjectives to describe the city center. Come up with a slogan that will best describe the city you want to see.”

When that task was completed, we drew our ideas and suggested improvements on a paper map of the specific area, including mixed-use buildings, a free light rail, parking, more street lights, parks, and green spaces. These notes and plans were then voiced publicly by a representative of each table. From there, the planning committee will take the suggestions to architects, landscape designers, engineers, transportation engineers and other experts who will draft the next generation of the plan.

It is one thing to hear about the development of a city and another to be a participant in the process. It is because of these collaborative efforts that Chattanooga is one of the most progressive and livable mid-size cities in the U.S.

Congratulations Chattanooga. I’m coming back to see more.

There will be more picture of Chattanooga on my photo website:


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