The Benwood Blog

Chattanooga has a history of being the comeback kid with a big imagination for the future. In this moment in time, we are uniquely positioned for the next big wave of change. There is a strong sense of optimism about our future, as well as a sense of urgency to move forward in meaningful ways.

The Benwood Blog will highlight the work of people in Chattanooga who are acting on that sense of urgency in innovative, timely, and sometimes surprising ways. We will also bring to light the stories, processes, and questions that our community cares about.

We hope you will enjoy these posts and that you will contact us if you have similar stories to share.

From time to time we will also write about what is On Our Minds at the Foundation, and present the work of guest bloggers whose work intersects with our primary areas of interest, place, culture, talent, and competitive advantage.

Money, Passion and Story: The Drivers (or Barriers to) Great Urban Design in Chattanooga

Money, Passion and Story: The Drivers (or Barriers to) Great Urban Design in Chattanooga

It seems to me that there is a disconnect that, in spite of excellent civic leadership in this amazing city, is
keeping design and development from being what it could or should be. This is especially true in the public realm, both within the urban fabric and elsewhere. Sitting at the annual convention for the American Institute of Architects and listening to the many masters of our profession present their works has suggested a few culprits to me, and while there may be others, these appear to be the standouts: Money, Passion and Story.

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We Need Civic Action, not just Innovation

We Need Civic Action, not just Innovation

There’s something about our modern English language that likes to take a word and beat it to the point that it no longer retains its original meaning. Every time you turn around these days, you hear the word innovation being thrown around. I was recently asked to contribute to this blog in my role as owner of Chattanooga’s coworking space, Society of Work. Coworking spaces were started with the developing workforce in mind. The truth of the matter is this: it’s not just millennials who are looking for meaningful contributions, flexibility in their schedules, and freedom in their jobs. What does this mean for the future of work and innovation? As our workforce becomes increasingly mobile and we are able to contribute from nearly anywhere, more people are finding new and various ways to make their jobs work for them.

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Power-Filled Threads, the Ties that Bind: Ana Martinez

Power-Filled Threads, the Ties that Bind: Ana Martinez

A stray thread brushed off a garment, a thread of an idea, a thread linking two people in our six-degrees-of-separation-community…these are the threads easily torn and inconsequential. But then sometimes a thread is everything - holding fabric from unraveling, linking strands of evidence to solve a mystery, the small link keeping us in close relationships with loved ones. Ana Martinez is a testament to the power of a thread.

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Sustainability is not a Four-Letter Word

Sustainability is not a Four-Letter Word

What is the biggest misconception surrounding the word, sustainability?  I was recently asked that question, and Agenda 21 immediately sprung to mind.  For those not familiar, Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development.  For many, calling the plan non-binding and voluntary is simply lip service.  Sustainability has become a trigger word, embedded with undertones of conspiracy and overtones of mistrust.  Within this fear-based paradigm, “sustainable development” becomes a catch phrase that really means “government theft of property rights.”

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The FUN Theory in Action

The FUN Theory in Action

Just over a year ago I became a Chattanooga resident, having relocated from the rocky coast of Portland, Maine. During my time in Maine, one of the big things I noticed was a laid back sense of exploration that kids, tweens, and teens of the community had during the summer months. School had ended, the sun was out, and the community was open to explore. There were some, but very few, camps or structured extracurricular learning activities. In Chattanooga, I noticed the opposite: there were many camps and and structured learning activities but less kids, tweens, and teens out and about in the community exploring freely. This got me thinking about kids, tweens, teens, and lifelong learning. I began to ask myself “what is the best path forward...the structured or the unstructured? And how can my work at the Chattanooga Public Library give the community what it needs?”

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On Local Food: Education, Choices, & Change

On Local Food: Education, Choices, & Change

There are thousands of labels in a grocery store.  Most are confusing and skew the truth; not disclosing everything it took to put such a nice little package on the shelf for you. Companies take great care in diverting your attention toward specifically added vitamins and nutrients, branding their products so you feel better about buying it. “Organic.” “Transitional.” “Enriched.” After all, Cheese Puffs have cheese, which has calcium, which is good for you, right? (This was someone’s logic that I recently heard. My mouth dropped.) We are removed from the makings of real cheese. “Healthy” has become a moving target as marketers and magazines pitch their products and ideas. While labels contribute to this problem, lack of education does, too.

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Learning Through Fun

Learning Through Fun

Perhaps my favorite thing about working in a library is opening kids up to the world. Getting to know the kids that “hate books” and leave with an armload of materials they “didn’t know they wrote books about”. Introducing two tweens who have the same passion for a solo hobby and build a friendship around that shared interest. Randomly searching the internet together for ways teens can turn their interests into professions someday and what steps they can start taking to make those dreams reality. I consider my self the ultimate guidance counselor, no issue is too great or small, to silly or serious, to unattainable or everyday.

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More than Just a Mark

More than Just a Mark

Ingrained in many of us is a desire to make a mark on the world, whether it is through something created, built or preserved, or through the satisfaction of knowing someone else has been empowered or nurtured through our actions.  For Mark Making,  this isn’t just a lifelong goal but a daily goal as lived out in a color-swathed laboratory. For the staff there, and through the countless lives they touch, their work is not simply a spray of paint on a wall but a much deeper mark of community impact.

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."


During the previous two decades this city has mustered the will to reinvent itself through keen leadership and a collaborative spirit. Chattanooga’s leaders were connected and focused to achieve what many believed was impossible – new life from a decayed urban core. ChattaNEWga would appear to have a bright future with positive growth on the horizon. We should now prepare for the new challenges that come with early success. Now is the time to dig deeper into the public-private partnerships that have been the foundation of Chattanooga’s rebirth.

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Their Soul Will See Mountains

To you Vanguards and to others here tonight, I’m humbled to be in front of you and awed by my task – to take only ten minutes to get you up to speed on what we’ve done here and how we’ve done it over the past 30 years.

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