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.

I didn’t grow up here. I didn’t go to school here. However, my lifelong attraction to cities began here. For well over 20 years, designers just like me trekked to Chattanooga for a serious dose of urbanism. Held daily in a chapel of civic engagement we were all witness to the collective wrestling that is the never ending work of city building. Each spring, several innocent and nonthreatening students presented new visions of Chattanooga to its most engaged leaders. The Planning and Design Studio is the fundamental reason that I now call Chattanooga home. The Planning and Design Studio was an extension of the University of Tennessee School of Architecture and contributed to the urban form of this city, pedagogically, and professionally. This was a place where community leaders connected for dialogue about the physical forms and long-range opportunities for our city. Large and small, the issues that were shared and often resolved within that place occurred through connected, engaged public-private partnerships.  


Recently, this little town has attracted some significant attention. From the dirtiest downward spiral toward a fresh start. According to CNBC , “Chattanooga, Tennessee has become a manufacturing magnet”. Economically, we’ve reportedly returned from the great recession faster than most other cities in the United States. We have now become not only a model for city rebirth, but an emerging tech hub as well. Growth is here, and more is coming. Now is the time to get our planning house in order. Let’s become prepared for growth and meet it headlong with smart and efficient planning and collaboration that enables a variety of economic opportunity (choices) while maintaining our city’s one-of-a-kind “scenic” beauty.  


Here is where “The GIG” connects. Believe it or not, Chattanooga has become the unlikely prospect for enormous “offshoring” tech innovation opportunities. Years from now, we should have made a serious attempt to harness a true understanding of innovation districts and the tech office revolution, while equally meeting the capacity for growth in downtown housing. The physical ramifications of tech growth should be researched, shared, and discussed with the same rigor that was invested in our riverfront. Let’s increase the opportunity for small incremental growth, because that is what Chattanooga has done best. We remain and sustain by building in small increments – block-by-block - and working together to achieve each small victory together.We need to study and adapt our building codes to allow for more small incremental growth. We need to incentivize and lift impediments for the small developer and business owner. More importantly we need to harness the public-private partnerships that are vital to city building.


Connectivity is hallmark to community. In becoming one of the fastest, most hyper-connected cities on the map, we need not overlook the fundamental bytes of the day-to-day connectedness that led us to this place. Vision 2000, and CHA FWD are the perfect engines for collective dialogue and civic engagement. In order to implement the next generation’s “commitment portfolio” this public input must in some way find manifest within a place akin to an urban design studio. The visions cannot be successful by private or public sector alone. The city’s future depends upon a sustained collective effort toward civic innovation led by a deeper connection of our successful public-private partnerships.

Eric Meyers is an Architect at Elemi Architects. 

“In becoming one of the fastest, most hyper-connected cities on the map, we need not overlook the fundamental bytes of the day-to-day connectedness that led us to this place. ”