The Finish Line!

To one and all, Happy Boxing Day! (oh, the disappointment when I learned that Boxing day has nothing to do with pugilistic Angles). What a year this has been. While my blog is technically not a year old until January 1, I’m taking this week to look back at the past 12 months of urban design blogging. I flirted with posting this closer to the actual anniversary, but I want to start the year fresh rather than bringing up old stuff. I hope ya’ll are on vacation and brought a sack lunch, this one may take a while…

Last year I made two New Years resolutions and kept both of them. The first was to learn enough about web design to create a portfolio website for myself, the second was to start a weekly blog to address urban design topics in Chattanooga. The website is live (www.christianrushing.com) and has a fairly representative sampling of my professional work. It is, however, in desperate need of an overhaul by an interactive design professional (if I could ever find the scratch to pay for it). The blog, which has taken on a life of its own, is complete as of this week.

There were several reasons that I wanted to get a regularly updated blog up and running. The most obvious reason was that there had been essentially no community conversation regarding urbanism and design since the Design Studio was shuttered in Spring of 2005. A blog is clearly no surrogate for active public discourse, so I suppose my hope was that writing about these things would induce others to voice their opinions as well. If enough of us got active, we could bring back the community dialogue about how we want our city to develop. I didn’t want to blog to make money, nor was I concerned with garnering a huge readership (as evidenced by a very narrowly focused theme). In fact, I’m not sure my readership will grow much as most of the people who care about these things have already subscribed. The reason I chose to write about urban design in Chattanooga is that I care deeply about it. It is one of the few things that I could excite me enough to write about week in week out.

Blogging: equal parts coffee, music, & xbox breaks.

Lest you think the blog was born purely of selfless concern for the community, I readily admit that I had a number of selfish motivations. Setting aside a few hours each week to write was therapeutic and provided a time each week for me to “reset” myself. It has also given me pause to think about a variety of facets of the city in a deeper way. I have thoroughly enjoyed the process, and I hope you have enjoyed reading.

January 2011

The first four posts of my blogging career pretty much set the tone for the year. I gave ya’ll the ground rules for what I wanted to write about and how I wanted to do it. The gloves came off when I used the two-part post “On the Declining Standard of Downtown Building” to make some observations about the direction the city is headed. Those posts seem to have struck a nerve. I’ve received more in-person comments on those posts than any other. The stats from the blog service back that up – those are two of the top five most viewed posts of the year. The most salient point of those posts is that the recent phenomenon of poor city building is but a symptom of the larger problem: a lack of community dialogue regarding how we want our city to grow.


The shortest month proved to be a good one for the C.Rushing space. I had the pleasure of introducing you to one of my favorite buildings downtown: Citi Park (As fate would have it, they have a killer unit available at the corner of M.L.King and Chestnut. If you’re looking for space, you should call Berry & Hunt). That month, I also made our first foray into the world of sport (a topic that matters deeply to me and is a recurrent tertiary theme in the blog). I greatly enjoyed writing the post about how urbanism and design have a positive impact on football game days in England. 


I took a look back at a couple of our historic efforts to remedy urban design maladies. This was a perfect lens through which to view the impending US-27 work. That work is still impending, still has massive implications for the future health of our downtown, and I still think the community should be concerned about what TDOT wants to do to us. Later in the month I took a pot shot at the institution of design guidelines, which I generally hate. Of course, this was written before the city decided to establish a downtown overlay zone and create a set of design guidelines- please don’t consider my post an indictment of these people or processes. I know most of the folks involved, and even chew the urban design fat with some of them at my Cherry Street office.


The highlight of April was my first ever trip to the hallowed grounds of Augusta National to see the first round of the Masters golf tournament. The stuffy ole geezers, kindly gentlemen denied my ticket application this year, so if I am to return this spring it will be at the pleasure of a friend with an extra pass. Well…?...Friends...? I devoted some space to an overview of sub-urbanism, and a few pixels to surface parking lots. It may surprise you to know that the most viewed blog posting of the year was on terminated vistas. I suspect that those numbers were driven by a link posted on my favorite Chatt-centric website of all time: Chattarati (go there)

I hope I didn't tell any of my clients I was sick that day...


The fifth month is kind of a reset button for my year. My year, of course, is driven by the sports calendar. The posts were all over the place this month. Feel free to cop my collard green recipe.


Ah yes, time for food on a stick. Surprisingly, I didn’t receive any hate mail from the Riverbend crowd; I don’t suppose a lot of them are in to reading urban design blogs (is that offsides). I still feel that we are risk of becoming the next Pigeon Forge, unnamed tourist trap city. When the mobs arrive, pitchforks in hand, to call me out for being an elitist, they will likely point to the posts of June. If you haven’t read the Kahn speech, do it, do it now.


The month in which Christianmas falls is always exciting, but this one was particularly good. The year marked the anniversary of one of the most important milestones of urbanism in our city, the Images of the City exhibition. We also celebrated the announcement and kickoff of River City Company’s Urban Design Challenge- a process that has kick-started the civic dialogue regarding urbanism and design. The Challenge is ongoing, please come out and participate.

Like the 29th of February, vacation only rolls around once every four years. As such, I felt the need to write about it all month. I wrapped it up with a little eye candy– me in a fumanchu moustache and polyester shorts.


I must have been hungry in September, there were several food pictures and an off-topic post on food (any excuse to show Paula Deen riding a hot dog ya’ll). For more images of Ms. Deen riding things please visit www.pauladeenridingthings.com. On another note, is it shallow and mean to take pleasure in seeing an old flame who has let herself go (read: the city of Albuquerque) as you walk by with your smoking-hot, smart and funny wife (our fair city: Chattanooga)? Probably…but it’s still fun. Albuquerque, it was fun- but I’m in a committed relationship with Chattanooga now.

My favorite caption of the year:
"'Cause F your arteries, that's why!"


With college football season in full swing, I’m amazed that I got any writing done. The posts covered familiar topics: food, alcohol, football, the value of shared community place. As an aside, the blog stat folks tell me that the number one search phrase leading people to my blog (ahead of boring variations “Christian” “Rushing” “Blog”) was “I hate LSU”. I’m not exactly sure how that works, but it probably has something to do with my post which mentions some student work.


More food, more football, more Rushing men, more on the value of civic dialogue and discourse, and more on the regenerative nature of the city.

Folks, I must admit that I felt like I was limping to the finish line in December. I had less time to write and the topics did not seem to come as easily. I was, however, determined to finish the year and fulfill my resolution.

The blog: equally grueling, less dramatic finish.

Writing this blog has been a great experience. The process has been therapeutic, cathartic, educational, fun, and energizing. I’m not yet sure what the future holds for the blog- I suspect that I will not have the time to drop 1,000 words per week again. I’ll try to come up with a plan by this time next week. To my friends in Russia, Germany, Canada, UK, India, Netherlands, France, Finland and Spain, thank you very much for reading. Please feel free to chime in, I would love to hear from you. To my reader(s) in Chattanooga, Happy New Year. I’m excited to see what the future holds for us!


(Oops, I forgot to give this post a title)

Friends, we’re almost there. The finish line is in sight, just two weeks left to fulfill my resolution. I will spare you the college football talk this week. What? You expect me give you insight in to the Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl? (Yes, that is the actual name of a bowl this year. The world has gone mad)

One of the strongest themes of the C.Rushing blog has been the value of community conversation regarding urbanism and development. The fact that civic discourse has emerged as a major theme is surprising and most unexpected. I really thought that the blog would focus more specifically on physical elements of design. For most of my professional career I have considered myself a man of action who valued deeds more than words. I think there is great value in that approach to work. Projects are great, they are tangible, and in a sense they are easy. As my world view continues to evolve, however, the fact that projects are not the ultimate goal has become more clear. Projects are tools that help us in accomplishing the ultimate goal: creating a livable community.

As the year in blogging has progressed, fighting the urge to bitch has become a constant battle. I resolved early on to maintain a positive tone in my writing and to not let this space devolve into a constant critique of the people, processes and projects with which I disagree.  I have had lapses (I have called out Buffalo Wild Wings, Applebee’s, and traffic engineers), but these instances are scarce and I think those few comments were fair. A dispassionate observer might say that, for balance’s sake, the blog could probably go a bit heavier on critique than it does. Yet, I still resist the temptation. 

O.K., it hasn't all been positive, but you try to write a blog
about urban design in downtown Chattanooga and not
talk about this one...

The way in which we communicate with each other nowadays is shameful. We live in a society where people go online and write things they would never say to someone in person. Much has been written about youths and cyber-bullying, unfortunately the phenomenon is a problem for adults as well. The unfortunate (and disturbing) fact is that this tone has made its way from the internet to the real world. It has become increasingly difficult to have an adult conversation regarding anything to do with society. Somewhere along the line insult and sarcasm became acceptable if not required methods of communication. The tone of public discourse has become mean-spirited and puerile.

Community meetings regarding the development of our society are, for the most part, dysfunctional. To begin with, people rarely show up unless there is something to bitch about. When people do show, the meetings are invariably either hijacked by those with separate agendas (witness the Tea Partiers at any planning related meeting) or they devolve into polarized, Us vs. Them confrontations. The red/blue dynamic has been well documented, we pick our side and duke it out. There is no room for compromise or reconsideration for fear of tainting ideological purity or losing moral high ground.

A city, an institution based on and created for society, can only be as healthy as the society that stewards it. If the society is incapable of having conversations regarding its future health, how can we expect that the shared physical environment will be evolve in a healthy way? As important as the thing being discussed is how the thing is discussed. Why critique the design of a building if we can’t even hold a civil conversation about why the design of the building is important?

First things first: we need to establish a tone for civic conversation that is civil and inclusive. My sincere hope is that our community can conduct serious and substantive conversations regarding urbanism and urban design. As with anything, the key to performance is practice. Obviously, the primary objective of having an engaged design community is to elevate the level of design and quality of life in the city. Beyond that, if the design community is engaged in an ongoing civil conversation then it will have the capacity to maintain an adult tone should any controversial topic arise in the future. Fortunately, with opportunities such as River City Company’s Urban Design Challenge, the Urban Deign Forum, and others, the community has proven that we are ready to reengage. Long may the conversation last. 

In the coming week I hope that you are surrounded by people that you love and that love you. Have a very merry Christmas!!
Merry Christmas!!
(I was going to say "Bear-y Christmas"
but that would be sacrilegious)


The Empty Page...

My friends, where has the year gone? I rarely make New Years resolutions, but last year was an exception. I resolved to start a blog in which I would dedicate about a thousand words a week to urban design issues in Chattanooga. This is my 51st post of the year, two more to go before the task is complete (I did an extra one when Blues won the Carling Cup this past spring). I have not yet determined whether or not I will stay the course into the New Year. It appears that life is conspiring to pinch my writing time, but this has been fun, so I’ll try to find a way to keep it rolling.

During a meeting earlier this week, a friend offered a quote for the blog. As he is the first person to actually ask that he be quoted, how could I deny him? The quote: “Surface parking is the South’s new cash crop”. At first, I thought he had inadvertently gifted me this week’s topic (alas, it is not to be). I have written about downtown parking before. In that post, the thrust of my argument was that surface lots are an inefficient use of our scarce land resource and do little to improve the character and quality of life in a place. I do, however, recognize the necessity and importance of downtown parking to provide access for the community at large, and as economic generators- they make money for the owners and operators, they accommodate downtown workers, and service businesses whose clients travel in from the 'burbs. Without reviving the whole parking discussion, the surface lot as transient use can be a useful tool beyond its face value for car storage. When considered vis a vis the analogy of the city as a forest, a surface parking lot can be considered a development parcel whose time has not yet come.

With the exception of the 700 block, each of the Urban Design Challenge sites have surface parking lots associated with them. It is easy to think of a surface parking lot in an urban area as a blank canvas. Even for the layperson, it is simple to look at a parking lot (a large flat piece of undeveloped land) and imagine “what if”. Visioning exercises have played a vital role in the revitalization of our city. Virtually every broad stroke of redevelopment and reinhabitation of the city has been guided by a broader exercise of imagining what the future held for us. The well attended and well publicized Urban Design Challenge (sponsored by River City Company) is our latest iteration of a community visioning process. But perhaps our most important, consistent, and comprehensive visioning program has gone largely unsung. I am, of course, referring to the 23 years of work by architecture students from the University of Tennessee.

The School of Architecture at UTK had a policy of strongly encouraging its students to study outside of Knoxville for a year. Some of the students traveled to the program in Krakow, some did their time in Nashville, and the fortunate ones came here to the Planning and Design Studio. The Studio was established and work commenced in 1980 when the students set about defining an urban structure framework that would evolve and be fleshed out over the course of the following decades. The work of the studio addressed sites and districts throughout downtown. The work that the students produced inspired future developments, and the research and design investigations they produced were invaluable resources for the professionals that eventually tackled the sites. The Aquarium district, Miller Plaza district, Brabson Hill, Cameron Hill, Southside and the MLKing district are but a few of the sites of real-world projects that were influenced by the work of the students.

Successful visioning, putting forth an idea for what the future might be, is a very delicate process. When “grown-ups” who have been exposed to the “real world” undertake visioning, the process is almost always colored by perceived realities and constraints. Visioning efforts led by governmental entities are usually met with either apathy or cynicism. Visioning efforts led by the private sector tend to put people on guard against what might be put over on them. Visioning work by students has a number of unique advantages: the students have not yet learned what is impossible, the fact that they are attending a well-respected, educational institution lends them credibility, and the fact that they are “merely students” makes their proposals non-threatening. Work produced by 4th-year architecture students has the benefit of expertise, a sprinkling of reality and the benefit that it can be considered at face value without the worry about ulterior motives or nefarious intent.

I was still at the Design Studio in 2003 when the last studio came through. I am not now, nor have I ever been officially affiliated with UTK’s architecture school, so I will leave it for more qualified observers to speculate why the 20+ year partnership came to an end. I will say, however, that without the students the Design Studio was not the same. We found that a design studio without students turns out to be essentially another government agency. As such, it is subject to the will and wishes of elected officials. What made our Design Studio unique and ultimately effective was the balance of an academic focus that could spark imagination and a governmental tie that had the ability to influence policy. In retrospect, the act of successfully navigating the politics of a major academic institution, dealing with the convoluted politics of city and county government, and interfacing with the local architecture and development communities, all the while producing uncompromisingly excellent and intellectually honest work for over 20 years, was nothing short of miraculous. 

The things that Chattanooga has accomplished in the past 30 years are truly remarkable. That is, in part, the reason why we still play host to architecture studios from different universities to this day. However, I can’t help but feel that no matter how impressive the work by Auburn, Georgia Tech and LSU students (among others), it is not the same as having a Chattanooga based studio. Having students live in the place that they are designing lends a richness and depth to the work that can’t be replaced by a weekend visit at the beginning of the semester. A site-based studio also provides a consistent framework and existing body of work for new projects to build upon- as opposed to visiting studios that are one-offs with no overarching narrative to give them context. Let there be no doubt that the Chattanooga studios made our city a better place and that we are worse off for their absence.


Flip Flop

And the hits just keep on coming….BCS National Championship game, we’ll see you on January 9th! To all clients, associates and friends, fair warning: don’t be surprised if I come down with a debilitating case of the C.Rushing flu that Monday.

For those who don’t follow college football, a process called the Bowl Championship Series  (BCS) selects the participants for the championship game. The BCS uses a formula that comprises three elements: two human polls and an average of 6 computer rankings. To be frank the whole process is convoluted and an asinine way to determine a champion (if, for some reason, you need to induce vomiting you can read more here).

Sunday had everything but the hanging chad...

Coming into the weekend, it appeared that my beloved Alabama Crimson Tide was a shoe-in for the Championship Game. Oklahoma State University, however, had a slim chance for beating the Tide out if a number of things broke their way during Saturday’s action. As fate would have it, all of those things did in fact break the way of the ‘Pokes (who blew out their arch-nemesis OU 44-10). This set the tone for nail-biting Sunday full of talking heads, leaked polls, campaigning, tweeting, and other bullshit (as opposed to every other sport where things are settled in some form of playoff format). The thought was that the computers would likely bump OSU ahead of ‘Bama, and if 25% of voters in the Harris and Coaches polls switched their second place votes from ‘Bama (the incumbent #2) to OSU (the previous week’s #5 and 6), OSU would indeed leapfrog the Tide and head to New Orleans for the Championship game. In the end, OSU didn’t get as much help from the computers as anticipated, and not enough human voters changed their minds. I am, of course, over the moon that ‘Bama will have their chance to avenge their loss to the delta bravo’s from Red Stick. The voting process, however, got me thinking about what it takes for people to change their minds once they have established a position.

As a MAN who is almost FORTY,
I feel for Mr. Gundy and Cowboys.
(One of the great sports rants of all time.)

One of the (many) things that pisses me off about our current politic discourse is the phenomenon of couching an opponent as one who “flip-flops”. The thought behind the concept is that anyone who changes their mind cannot be trusted in the future because they may change their position on an issue. I think that is one of the dimmest concepts to ever be brought into our collective conversation. Candidates who make these accusations are essentially saying that they themselves are perfect and that they have finished learning. How refreshing would it be to have a candidate offer that while their core principles are inviolable, they are open to processing new information and reaching new conclusions about specific issues.

It has been said that change is the only constant. In many ways that is a scary concept. Perhaps that is why we have historically built the most permanent structures for our most psychologically important functions – ecclesiastical, financial, and governmental buildings (which were often one in the same). Change, however, does not respect the seeming permanence of our buildings and cities. We are left only with the choice of changing for the better or worse- progress or decline. Given that choice, one would assume that the vast majority of us would like our cities to progress. It is impossible, however, to make progress without changing current conditions. It is impossible to change current conditions if you are unable to change your mind.

This has very real implications for how we position ourselves to talk about the future development of our city. There are several possible examples to cite, but I’ll go back to my honey hole and pick on transportation engineers. During Corker’s administration, the city undertook two controversial traffic projects: the two-way switch of McCallie and MLKing, and the narrowing of Riverfront Parkway. Both of those projects sparked very vocal opposition*. The rallying cry was essentially “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” (never mind that it was broken). This was an argument against change. Learned opponents claimed that cars would be careening into one another, pollution would ensue, pedestrians would be slaughtered daily, and that traffic would choke downtown and bring circulation to a standstill. Now that we are almost a decade into the conversion, we have found that none of these things have come to pass. In fact, both of these projects appear to have been incredibly successful.

The next time a similar project rolls around will the citizenry be able to learn from our past experiences and formulate new opinions or will we fall back into familiar patterns? Consider US-27… Suppose there is a transportation project on the horizon. Suppose also that learned supporters suggest that if we don’t go along with a mid-20th century solution of building bigger and more, that pollution will increase, pedestrians will be in danger, and traffic will choke downtown and bring circulation to a standstill. Do you think that our decision makers and the citizenry that support them would consider those arguments vis a vis our recent experiences? Do you think that people who have come out in support of an idea can reconsider and reverse their position for the betterment of the city? Hope springs eternal.

Note: Yes, I did search for a situation where I changed my mind about something. Forunately, I’m not a flip-flopper and no such incidences have occurred.

*In an effort to find some exact quotes, I actually went through the process of digging up a dozen opinion letters from the Chattanoogan and TFP regarding the projects. After some reflection, however, I decided not to include them. I don’t want to be perceived as calling my neighbors out for an “I-told-you-so”. You can either take my word for it or research it yourself.


I Want a Steak the Size of a Toilet Seat

Warning: I’m a bit under the weather today and can’t seem to get my head right, so this post may swerve a bit.

I’m not one to gloat (I am actually, but this is not the place), but after several weeks of writing about college football, I feel the need to pay it off. I will tread the middle ground and say that I had the kind of weekend that makes the next 365 days livable. The bigger picture, however, is dependent upon voters and computers…naturally, the way sports championships should be decided, no?

Speaking of Auburn, as we were returning from the Loveliest Village on the Plains a few weeks ago, I heard an excellent radio interview on NPR. It was with a writer who compiled a book of  interviews with chefs. The chefs were asked to describe their ideal last meal. Mind you, I have not read the book, can’t remember the author’s name and I’m too lazy to do that research. So this is based on memory. (Ok, I got off my bum and did the research: My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals by Melanie Dunea)

In the radio interview, the author explained that she found essentially two camps of responses from the chefs she spoke with. The first was the group of chefs who identified their favorite opulent and luxurious ingredients such as fois gras, truffles, caviar, lobster, jamon iberico, and the like. The second camp were chefs who identified meals that had some form of nostalgic comfort – their mother’s chicken soup, their grandmother’s chocolate cake, or some other remembered comfort food. I’m not a psychologist or sociologist, but I bet that some smart person out there has a model that describes why a group like that divides itself in such a way. Of course, the author has simplified her analysis to a black and white accounting. I suspect the reality is a range of grey shades in between the two polar extremes, but for my purposes, I’m going to roll with it.

Cooking is a creative process, and it is about design (some people take it more seriously than others). I think design philosophy is transferable across creative disciplines. Philosophies of cooking could be applied to city building, and vice versa. Following that line, lets borrow the authors question and apply to the built environment- if you have one site to design anything you wanted, what would you do? I imagine that architects would fall into essentially the same camps as the chefs. One group would attempt to take the latest technologies and materials and create a great monument to themselves for humanity. Another group would choose to honor time-tested and proven materials, forms and orders to express their view of the human condition.

The Urban Design Challenge has given me pause to consider what I might do given a blank slate. In a sense the Urban Design Challenge has posited an equivalent question to architects and planners. Consider the sites to be the question, the blank slate, the opportunity to do as one sees fit, the “last meal”. Would I design my version of urban foie gras, or a building that channels Baba’s collard greens? I will disappoint you if you think I’m going to make the case that one approach is better than another. If you have seen any of my couple of works, however, you might be able to guess which way I would likely lean. Despite my bent toward expression that speaks to our time, having considered the question in this light has softened my view to some degree.

Ok, that was the kind and gentle C.Rush. The reality is that the question is a false one. How many of those chefs will actually get to eat their “last meal” for their last meal. Even if they did, no matter how expertly prepared, would it actually live up to the expectations of a “last meal”? This is not, however, a pointless exercise. In answering the question the chefs are giving us an insight into what makes them a great designer and what makes them tick as a person. In answering that same question, it gives those of us who are not genius chefs an opportunity to go through the process and to think about what we would do in their shoes.

That is one of the great values of the Urban Design Challenge. It is great to see what our city’s fantastically talented designers propose for each of the sites. I am hopeful, however, that each of the challenges give the layperson or interested observer pause to think about the city in those terms. To think about what they would do on each of those sites. Hopefully, after thinking about those things, they will join in the civic dialogue concerning how we should build our downtown in the future and contribute their ideas.

In case you were wondering:
-Veloute of cauliflower with scallop crudo

-Steamed royal red shrimp
-Seared foie gras with a mascarpone crepe
-Crispy pig’s foot with quail eggs and white truffle
-A dry-aged Wagyu strip
-A slice of New York Cheesecake
(but you can’t hold me to this one, it has changed 6 times over the course of the day)

In case you were wondering 2.0:
My prediction: 35-13 
Final score: 42-14


I-Earn Bowl Week Is Upon Us!

Happier than a pig in slop... happier than a coondog on a bare leg... happier than a possum at pokeberry time…This is Iron Bowl week (If you do not know what the Iron Bowl is, I can't help you, go google it or something). This morning, my six-year-old Spence wrote that he was excited for the "I Earn Bol"- so he has either already attained the spelling proficiency of an Awbun grad, or is offering commentary on Cam Newton. Iron Bowl notwithstanding, this week's post is not about the future. I will, however,  offer my prediction: Alabama 35 Awbun 13.

What a weekend! The best analogy I can come up with is being in “the zone”. In earlier days when basketball was life, there was no better feeling than those fleeting moments where you know you can’t miss. Things are simply breaking your way. Of course, you can’t control when this happens, or for how long, you just appreciate it when it occurs.

The weekend looked innocent enough. I had a bunch of work to get done in advance of the holiday, Alabama and Auburn were both playing FCS opponents, and we happen to be in a lull in the youth sports schedule. I expected nothing more than a little work, a little playing in the park, a little cooking, and a little relaxation. Well friends, I got all that and more.

Going into this weekend of college football, my beloved Crimson Tide sat third in the BCS. Were we to have any chance of playing for a national championship we were going to need some help. #2 Oklahoma State needed to lose, and the best chance for that would be on the 27th when they face #5 Oklahoma. Were Oklahoma to win that game, however, a number of voters may have been convinced that they were a better one-loss team than ‘Bama. Out west, there was a great deal of hype surrounding #4 Oregon- like ‘Bama, a team with only one loss, and that to #1 LSU.

The weekend started with a bang on Friday. That morning I discovered that Noel (yes, that Noel) was playing the Tabernacle in Atlanta. I grabbed some tickets- 5th row center, thank you very much. (btw, I bought a few extra, if you want to roll with us, give me a shout). The next little jewel came at my Friday afternoon board meeting at the Cherry Street office. Bathed in a single golden beam of light ,front and center in the humidor, I found a box of the exceedingly rare Arturo Fuente Anejo. The #77, AKA “the Shark” was sublime. Content that I had a good day, I returned home and hit the bed. As a lark, I figured I would tune in to see just how good Oklahoma State was. Turns out, not very. The Iowa State Cyclones pulled the massive upset and cracked the door for an Alabama-LSU rematch.

Several weeks ago, on a trip to Iowa, after failing to find an
Ottumwa Bulldog shirt for the boy, I settled on an
Iowa State number. Coincidence? I think not.

Saturday, the hits kept on coming. Corso got the day off to a rousing start by dropping an F-bomb on College GameDay. ‘Bama rolled GA Southern. Auburn edged Samford. USC held on to defeat Oregon (yes, I was actually rooting for Lane Kiffin), and finally, Baylor took down Oklahoma. Closer to home, Tennessee pulled a massive upset by nipping Vanderbilt in OT (not neccesarily a good thing, it’s just fun to note that the Vols were an underdog to the ‘Dores).

At midnight, I received what was by far the best news of all. The world has been blessed with another Rushing male. My nephew, Andrew Rushing, Jr., was born in Colorado at about 11pm. He surprised us all by arriving a couple of months early. The little guy is only about 3lbs, but his lungs are developed enough for him to breathe on his own. Both mother and son are recovering and doing well. We are all incredibly excited. Now, I have to figure out how to get them to move back down South. I’m sure Aspen is nice, but c’mon man…

The newest member of the clan. Welcome, little Drew.

Sunday was spent basking in the glow of good fortune. In the afternoon, I dipped out for another celebratory Anejo. When I got home, I came a across a forgotten pound of royal red shrimp in the freezer. I then settled in for the release of the BCS standings. Those standings showed that the stage is set for an LSU-Alabama rematch, and the top three teams in the nation are all from the Western Division of the SEC. What a life.

That all of this is occurring around Thanksgiving is not lost on me. I am very thankful for everything I have been blessed with in this life. I don’t deserve half of it. Along those lines, we should all be thankful for the things our city is blessed with. It is useful to critique and question, but every now and then it’s also useful to take a step back and appreciate the things we have. Toward that end, I am thankful for*:

-the mountains. We are blessed with one of the most beautiful and liveable physical settings in the South. The mountains are the pillars of this setting, I find them reassuring and inspiring.
-the connectivity our city has to the nation and region.
-the river. Our collective birthplace and the engine for a century of our growth.
-the portions of the downtown street grid that are still intact. This is our inherited footprint, the fine scale makes pedestrianism and human-scaled commerce possible.
-the quantity and quality of parks and plazas downtown.
-our buildings. Our forebears have blessed us with a number of rich historic structures that express our shared history. Our contemporaries have blessed us with modern works that express the technology and philosophy of our time. Our downtown has a number of sites that will be suitable for future generations to build, thereby expressing themselves and addressing their needs.
-the generosity of spirit exhibited by our public realm.
-Chattanoogans. We are all indebted to the generations that established and grew the city. We are indebted to the people who engineered and executed the revival of downtown. I am grateful for the crop of young people who appear to be actively engaged in making our city a better place. I am thankful for the Spencers, Sterns, and little Drews who will one day take up the mantle of civic stewardship.

It is one thing to be cognizant of the things we have been blessed with. It is quite another to respect those blessings by working to nurture and maintain them. The important thing to remember is that these things can be fragile and fleeting. If I don’t keep an eye on the mail, I might miss my tickets to see Noel. If Alabama doesn’t win the Iron Bowl this week, all of the serendipitous results of the weekend will be for naught. If I don’t go immediately back to CBC and buy the rest of the Anejos, I may never see one again. If the doctor’s don’t attend to the needs of little Drew, there may be long-term consequences. If we are not active stewards of the blessings our city has received, they will be lost to future generations.

In James, the Bible says that faith without deeds is dead. I suppose one could also say that blessings without stewardship are lost.

*I'm sure I will have missed something about the city that I'm thankful for. Please feel free to comment and point out anything that I let slip.


Jackin' for Streets

One of the great joys of fatherhood is getting to watch my boys’ movies guilt-free. The same movies…over…and over…and over. There is nary a Pixar product that I can’t recite word for word in my sleep. One of their faves is Shrek. There are many memorable quotes, but this passage is one that is habitually stuck in my head:

Shrek: Ogres are like onions! 

Donkey: They stink? 

Shrek: Yes... No! 

Donkey: Oh, they make you cry? 

Shrek: No! 

Donkey: Oh, you leave 'em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin' little white hairs... 

Shrek: NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.

When I get involved in anything that has levels of complexity, Donkey springs, unsummoned, into mind. Clearly, a city falls into the category of a multi-layered entity for which the onion simile is apt (including Donkey’s observation of smell). As good as the onion simile is, it’s not as good as the one that my mentor/friend/foil offered when he said:

“Cities, like forests are in a constant state of renewal. While forests recycle in rhythm with natural laws, the city is recycled by the collective will & conscience of its citizens.”

Sorry 'Cube, there's only one OG of urban design in this pic...
That quote has stuck with me since the first time I heard in back in ’99. It is a perfect description of many different aspects of the city. In fact, that is my “go-to” answer if I’m ever stumped during an interview or presentation. Reciting the quote gives one enough time to process some kind of answer and the forest simile is broad enough for one to take an answer in virtually any direction. If you hear me on the radio and I bust out the forest quote, you know I’m vamping...(oh no! I’ve said too much…)

One of the more obvious analogies would be that a building is to a city as a tree is to a forest. In a forest a tree progresses from seed to seedling to growing tree to mature tree to death. In a city, a building moves from concept through design to development and construction to use to demolition. Of course, that analogy is not perfect. Buildings are not naturally occurring things. Humans, of course, create them. Humans that have the ability to think and adapt and change. When a building outlives its original purpose, it is not doomed to die. We have the ability to extend the life of buildings by adapting them for uses other than what were originally intended. As long as maintenance is addressed, this can go on for centuries. Eventually, when the building’s useful lifespan has concluded, it has the potential to provide its resources for other projects, and can in essence continue to live on.

As far as sites go, land was here before the city and will be here long after we have passed. Protecting and maintaining our inherited building stock is a vitally important. However, a healthy city needs sites for new growth. When a majestic tree dies, it is in some sense sad. The silver lining is that the space is now available for a new tree to grow and thrive, and the nutrients that the dead tree contained will be released to nourish other elements of the forest.

The forest simile is nice, it’s a good way of comforting yourself when somebody builds a bad building, or the traffic engineers screw something else up. No matter what happens, the city will continue to evolve and perhaps in the future our children will be able to rectify what we F’ed up. The focus of this blog, however, has been the second part of that quote: the mechanism by which the city is recycled – the collective will and conscience of the city. The city will change, whether or not we choose to address that fact. That is why processes like River City Company’s Urban Design Challenge and the Urban Design Forum are so vitally important. Our collective will and conscience cannot be effectively expressed if there is no mechanism to channel it.

Hopefully, in the future, this lot can fix what we're
letting the traffic engineers screw up now.

There is no finished state for a city. There is no ultimate goal of having “arrived”. There is no ideal state. The city is a constantly evolving entity. It can grow or it can die. How the city changes and evolves is entirely up to us while we're here.


Let's Get the Band Back Together!

Dear Santa: I have tried to be a good boy this year. Pease bring me a quarterback that can throw downfield and a kicker who is worth a damn. I could also use a loss by both OSU and Stanford between now and your appointed rounds.

This is an exciting week for C.Rush – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds eponymous debut album is released in the U.S. on Tuesday (if you want to melt your ear-holes with his sheer brilliance before then, go here).  Noel was once the force behind my favorite band, Oasis. Is Oasis as important as the Beatles or as good as say Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin? Probably not. My philosophy, however, is that a person’s favorite band should be their contemporary. Oasis hit the scene in ‘94, during my formative adult years. Songs like Supersonic, Morning Glory, Wonderwall, Acquiesce and D’you Know What I Mean formed the soundtrack of my 20’s. Oasis is essentially two brothers- Liam and Noel Gallagher- and a changing cast of a backup band. The brothers were renowned for their rock star lifestyle and for constantly fighting with one another. They produced nine albums from 1994 through 2010. Last year, the band split up…again…for real this time.

It took D and I three days in the hospital to realize
that this one's name was not Noel.

Beyond the fact that I loved the music, I also related to their sibling dynamic. Noel is the older brother, the lead guitar player, the driving force behind the band and the outspoken creative genius. Liam is the vain, bratty, lead singer with the recognizable voice. Being a creative, driven older brother with a bratty, vain younger brother (that I fought with tooth and nail until I went to college) I feel a strong connection Noel. On two occasions I almost named a child after him. Both of those occasions also happened to be new album release weeks for Oasis.

My brother swears I Photoshopped this image to put him
in a doofy pose and make him appear 2" shorter. As usual,
he is wrong. To his eternal credit, he did not try to fight me
on my wedding day

I’ve done a lot in my lifetime and I like to think of myself as a renaissance man (except for not as much of an ass as someone who actually thinks of himself as a renaissance man). But no one man can do it all. Of the things I probably won’t get around to in this lifetime, the one that I most wish I could have done is to play in a band. Not for the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll aspect (done that), but to be part of that type of creative process. When I listen to my favorite bands* like the Beatles, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, or Oasis I can’t help but think about the how those guys went through process of the melding of their various skills to produce art. I am drawn to collaborating with people who share common creative ground. I dig the creative tension that exists when groups of artists come together. The immediacy of being able to play a song and hear it in real time is something I find fascinating. How different from the months and years it takes to render design in the built environment.

Design as a team sport, however, has always been something of a mystery to me. I am all about cooperation, collaboration and teamwork. I have found, however, that design by committee is often a recipe for disaster. In the past I have typically subscribed to the theory that a single clear concept developed by an individual is stronger than a concept that has to have a common denominator. I’m starting to come around to the concept that designing as part of a group may have the potential to produce better results than a concept developed by a single person. However, the group design process is exponentially more difficult. I’m still working myself through that.

Design aside, it is undeniable that a strong team is the only way to build a healthy city. One of the hallmarks of our civic renaissance was the strong ethic of partnership and collaboration. Building a city is hard work. No one can do it alone. The only way forward is to find common ground, get in the boat and starting rowing. That concept has been utterly lost and abandoned in the past few years. The tenor changed and the band broke up. All of the players (or band members to keep up the analogy) are still here- some of them still jam together (the analogy rolls on). No one stood up to keep us together, so we’ve split up and have been putting out solo albums for the past few years. And as we all know, solo efforts rarely measure up to the band (don’t dispute this or I’ll have to bring up Ram, Unfinished Music #1, and Pictures at Eleven).

Despite being the older brother, this one was
  named Noel for only about 15 minutes.

Anyone involved with city building knows that we have been and will likely continue to face difficult times. The only way we will be able to grow and improve is by finding a way to work together again. There is no way that any one group, person or institution can go it alone. Of course, things are different now, and the same partnerships and coalitions that were successful in the 90’s are likely to be irrelevant now. We need to find a way to tailor new partnerships to address our new challenges. These things are easier said than done, but the starting point is a strong civic dialogue for an honest assessment of where we are and where we want to be. Let’s get the band back together.

*In case you were wondering, in those musical fantasies, I imagine myself in John’s position with the Beatles, taking over Colin Greenwood’s bass for Radiohead (and writing a few algorithms on the side), playing Noel’s lead guitar for Oasis, and rockin’ Bonham’s drums for Zeppelin.


Do People Still Say Synergy?

A loose meat sandwich is a thing of beauty. Deceptive in its simplicity, it comprises a white bun, crumbled ground beef, katsup, mustard, and, if you prefer, cheese. Should you desire, you can have it “wet” (the whole assembly dunked into the cooking liquid). In the Midwest these sandwiches can be found at chains such as Maid-Rite. The perfected incarnation of the loose meat sandwich, however, is found Canteen Lunch in Ottumwa, Iowa.

The Canteen Sandwich

Canteen Lunch is one of those blessed places where a legendary product is combined with an inimitable atmosphere. Canteen lunch has been in operation at the same location since 1936. In the 80’s the city of Ottumwa tried to relocate the Canteen in order to build a parking structure. The Canteen had no intention of moving and so the city build a parking garage around our friends in the humble brick building. On the inside, the restaurant consists of a single, small room enclosing a u-shaped service counter. In the middle of the U, three chatty ladies bustle around a metal meat-cooking apparatus. On the wall in a corner hangs a map of the United States for out-of-towners to represent with push pins (due to the number of pilgrims, the map has to be reset twice a year).

This place is the embodiment of synergy (yes, I know "synergy" went out with "paradigm" in the late 1990's, but stick with me). In much the same way that their sandwich is greater than the sum of its parts, the experience of Canteen Lunch is exponentially greater than the sum of the taste of a sandwich, the smell of a kitchen, the friendly people, and the quaintness of a small brick building in an alley. Synergy is a powerful thing, and one of the core principles our community embraced as we set about the task of pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps.

Part of our task in Ottumwa was to tell the Chattanooga story to a select group of Ottumwa VIP. I never tire of giving that presentation. When we work in other places we are, without fail, asked about specific projects that turn a city around. Without fail, I answer that the answer lies not in projects, but in principles. Projects are important, but in the end, they are singular things that can succeed or fail. Principles, however, express the essence of the community and can be applied to projects and processes. Projects can succeed or fail based on external factors that can be unpredictable and capricious. Core principles cannot be tarnished by external influences.

I shared with my new friends the principles that guided our actions in Chattanooga. I was, however, quick to point out that Ottumwa needed to go through its own process of dialogue and discovery to develop their own set of unique principles. As I was preachin’, it struck me that although our principles are ingrained in the vast majority of Chattanoogans that got in the boat and rowed, we probably don’t do a good enough job of talking about them explicitly. As a refresher:

Inclusion- Downtown should be for everyone. 
History- Reuse of buildings and respect for history should be key elements of downtown strategies. 
Quality- Whatever is done should be of high quality. 
Partnering- Partnerships should be created and strengthened to get things done. 
Importance of Place- Attnetion should be paid t public and natural places in downtown. 
Citizen Involvement- City building should be accompanied by robust citizen engagement. 
Genuine- Downtown should authentically represent Chattanooga and Chattanoogans. 
Synergy- Every piece and part of the downtown should contribute positively to the overall development and liveliness of the city around it. 
Please note that these are not C.Rushing’s principles- they are Chattanooga’s. Also note, that I ripped off that specific language from somebody else, although, I must confess I do not remember the source (I believe that came from one of Mr. Kennedy’s presentations, but I'm not certain).

When we argue for good urban design in future projects downtown, the argument has to be based on principle instead of aesthetics. When I rail against the likes of Buffalo Wild Wings, it’s not necessarily because I don’t like the gold, black and white color scheme (I don’t). That building happens to violate a number of the community-established principles that the revitalization of our city was based on. Specifically: it is not genuine, lacks quality, doesn’t respect the importance of place, and has no synergistic effect. So while the symptom of the problem is aesthetic, the root of the problem lies in the fact that our community principles have been violated. Are those principles as valid today as they were in the early 90’s? I think so, but perhaps they need to be reassessed. In either case, we need to return to a place where what we do as a community is grounded by a set of commonly held ideals.


One Down, Two To Go

Coming to you from the Des Moines airport this week, so please remember that as I warned last week, these next couple of posts will not likely relate directly to Chattanooga, and will struggle to achieve the already low standards of the C.Rushing blog. You have been warned...

Friends, I managed to survive the first leg of three in a week full of travel. This past weekend I journeyed back to my Homeland with three of my buddies who had the misfortune of being born UT fans. On Friday afternoon we took a leisurely cruise down I-59 to Birmingham and on Saturday rolled in to Tuscaloosa to watch the country’s best college football team play Tennessee (if I never hear the phrase “Go Vols” again it will be too soon). As many of you know, because of my complex, sub-allegiance to Auburn, Tennessee is my most hated college football rival. For both fan bases this is a big rivalry, but for me it is THE rivalry. Thankfully, after a nervy start, things finished as scripted.

One of the great things about this past weekend was that I was reminded again of just how much I enjoy being a pedestrian able to catch up some much needed rest and read a great hotel guest guide to Birmingham. Upon reaching the city we parked in a structure near the hotel and forgot about it. I relish the feeling of cutting the tether to the car, if even for a short while. It was a great joy to be able to walk from pub to pub cafe to cafe to sample brown liquor exotic coffees and teas, go window shopping for any place to get something on my stomach just the right place to eat, chat with homeless folks on the street and attend a new nightclub opening retire early to enjoy a full night's sleep. This experience was made possible only by density.

It was nice to catch up some light reading this weekend.

The density equation has two components: population and form. For those types of service businesses to survive they have to have a broad customer base. There needs to be a residential population base nearby to support them. From a practical standpoint, the form of the place has to accommodate the function of walking. Businesses need to be close enough to one another to make a walk practical. Of course, there needs to be a physical place for people to walk (sidewalk). These are simple concepts; cities have built accordingly for centuries. More recently, it was understood by sub-urban developers- hence the physical form of the shopping mall. The fault in the sub-urb, however, is the segregation of use and separation of people from the businesses that serve them. So there you have it, downtown revitalization made simple: Build a compact place (with sidewalks) for people to live and businesses will move there to serve them.

On Saturday, in God’s own Tuscaloosa, we parked in a lot and headed for campus. College towns and campuses are typically great showcases of pedestrianism. The vast majority of one’s needs are provided for within walking distance, as many students, faculty and staff don’t have cars. I was reminded of my college days, when life’s daily business was conducted without an automobile. From my house I could walk to class, walk to the movies work, walk to the bowling alley gym, and walk to the pub library. If you substitute “work” for “class” in the equation, what is so different between living near a college campus or in a downtown? Yet despite the fact that many suburbanites enjoyed a pleasant pedestrian lifestyle in their college days, they have a hard time making the leap that a downtown can provide the same thing.

I am, however, in a good mood today and will not embark on another anti-sub-urb rant. I am optimistic that the downtowns in our country will continue their positive trend and that the suburbs can be recast into something healthier and more productive.

With a Tide victory over UT in hand and pleasure out of the way, up next is business in Ottumwa, IA and Auburn (back in God’s Country).

Have a great week, Roll Tide!!


Carl Jung Thinks I'm a Mastermind

A bit of housekeeping before we jump into this week’s post:

-This is me doing my best not to drop the F.U.-bomb on the BCS. What a imbecilic way to crown a national champion. The good news for ‘Bama is it doesn’t really matter as long as we keep winning.

-I fear the ole C.Rushing blog may be impacted by my travel schedule over the next couple of weeks. I will try to try to stick to weekly postings on Mondays, but there is a chance that a) they will suck more than usual, and b) they will be off topic. Consider yourself warned.

My upcoming travels will take me to
Tuscaloosa to see if this scene repeats itself.

One of the great advantages of being self-employed is that scheduling is self-directed. The challenge is to design the day efficiently in order to maximize effectiveness. This is done over time through trial and error, and has to account for events that are inflexible. I’m still trying to master this skill, but over the course of the past six years I have become far more attuned to my daily rhythms. Most mornings, I’m a machine: creative, clear minded and focused. After lunch, I’m worthless till about 3. There is a brief moment of focus in late afternoon, followed by another period of worthlessness. From around 7 p.m. until the time I choose to go sleep I’m a machine again. I’m probably slow on the take with this one, but I am just now fully getting a grip on how to take advantage of myself (wait… that didn’t sound right).

Understanding these cycles has made it easier for me to schedule my time efficiently. I try to schedule all of my meetings in the afternoon, leaving the mornings free to get “real work” done.  As an introvert (for the Myers-Briggs geeks out there, I’m an INTJ – 33%, 62%, 25%, 78%) keeping to that schedule allows to me recharge in solitude in the morning so that I can be “on” for meetings with others in the afternoon.

Saint Nicholas Saban is a fellow INTJ

I’m shooting from the hip (in that I have no research to back this up), but I think cities may have cycles as well. Perhaps they can’t always be “on”. I’m not sure that cities and communities can sustain inexorable marches in any direction indefinitely. Cities are influenced by all number of factors from economies (international, national and regional), social movements, transportation concerns, weather patterns, and natural disasters. But even if you put those considerations aside, can any community maintain keen focus and purposeful drive for even a generation?

To be frank, we saw a waning of “energy” downtown since the completion of the 21st Century Waterfront project. A variety of excuses have been proffered for that trend: global and national economic conditions, an overbuilt market, national and local political changes, to name a few. Who knows, maybe the answer is one of those or perhaps a combination of those. Perhaps the answer is something altogether different. Perhaps the community just needed to take a deep breath after 20-something years of remarkable change. Maybe this lull would have occurred without the recession or change in the cast. We will probably never know. In the end, the cause does not matter, only our recognition of the occurrence does.

Playing the blame game – singling out things, phenomena, and people does not accomplish anything; it is a waste of time and is usually detrimental to constructive community dialogue. It would, however, behoove us to be self-aware. We should query and question ourselves to see if we can become more attuned to our civic cycles. If we can identify our cycles of productivity and rest, then we can more ably focus our resources and attention efficiently.

Get thee to the Community Design Forum!
Why woulds't thou be a breeder of sub-urbanites?

If you read this blog, you’re probably tuned in to what’s going on downtown now. There seems to be a renewed energy in the civic conversation regarding downtown. The River City Company’s Urban Design Challenge has played to hundreds of attendees (be sure to catch the next installment on November 10th at 5:30 at the IMAX). The Community Design Forum has become fertile ground for idea generation and discussion of urban design and community. From a programming and development standpoint, it appears that things are starting to bubble up again. We seem to be on the leading edge of an oncoming cycle. All of us: designers, political leaders, developers, community leaders need to find a way to marshal this groundswell of energy and use it to build a better city.

...and yes, he did just drop some Hamlet on you...


"Go" is Not A Five Letter Word

At this month’s meeting of the Community Design Forum we heard from a group of LSU landscape architecture students (despite the fact that they were from LSU, they seemed to be very sharp, sane, intelligent people). Their class had undertaken a number of theoretical projects in and around downtown Chattanooga. It was a lot of fun to see student work and it’s trademark naïveté (read: primary strength). Students with fresh eyes produce great ideas because they have not yet learned what is not possible. Of course, our downtown has had the benefit of 30 years of student work. The vast majority of the “real” work that has been done downtown in the past couple of decades exists on sites that have been dreamed on by students. Over the past couple of years we have had the odd group of students return from time to time to work. We are, however, worse off for not having an institutionalized studio here year in year out.

Nothing to do with the post...
The Bear doesn't need a reason.
The student work offered me a reminder of a topic I have been planning to write about for some time. That topic is the importance of resisting the privatization of public space.

For a variety of reasons, citizens both locally and nationally and from each end of the political spectrum are decrying the size and reach of government. Everybody has their pet complaint whether it's taxes, bailouts, healthcare, public art, or any of the myriad other wastes. For my part, I am in favor of a massive reduction of government scale and reach. That said, not all government is bad, there are a number of things that a government can and should do better than the private sector. The government being our tool for the stewardship of our shared resources and all that.

When considered in the context of government waste, the sub-urb is an interesting study. The Sub-urbs are only possible because of massive public subsidies. Roads, sewers, water lines, power, police services, transit, and fire protection are all necessary elements for sub-urban development, and they are all paid for by the community. So if one person asks “why do my taxes go to purchase public art?”, another could just as easily ask “why do my taxes subsidize McMansion building out in the country?” One of the irksome things about the sub-urb is despite the fact that it receives a disproportionate amount of community spending, it has almost no true community space. Virtually everything is privatized: gated communities, shopping areas, athletic facilities and the like. Even the most “democratic” space in the ‘burbs, the shopping mall, is a private concern (as the curfews and security officers will attest). True public space, such as the street, the archetype of communal realm, is essentially inaccessible to people (unless they are in cars). This condition is understood by all, however, it has always been that way, and it is part of the DNA of those places.

The thing that grinds my gears is the attempt to impose suburban values on urban places. I have written at length about the nefarious effects of the sub-urban building type in downtown so I won’t address that here. That is not, however, the only instance where the introduction of sub-urban practices can destroy the elements that define downtown. In the last decade or two, as downtowns have become popular once again, we have found that people returning often do so with sub-urban baggage.

The Tennessee River belongs to all of us. It is our community resource- it is both the place of the city’s birth and provides us with life (water) to this day. Downtown belongs to all of us. It is us- the place we originally came together for communal benefit and the place we come together for commerce and recreation to this day. Part of the DNA of downtown is the concept that shared resources are just that. These resources belong to everyone in the community, and access to those resources for all is a fundamental principle. Thankfully, dating back to the days of the Moccasin Bend Task Force, a number of dedicated and hardworking Chattanoogans have recognized the importance of public access to the river. Consequently, we have a number of world-class riverfront parks and a riverwalk that extends miles from downtown. Those successes, however, are not complete. Without calling out specific developments or vessels, there have been (successful) attempts to privatize the riverfront, and restrict public access- to all of our detriment.

Another form that sub-urban privatization takes is street closure. How often do we see large office employers pitching the “campus” concept? They see their brethren out in the suburbs with expansive, closed, “secure” places and want that for themselves. Unfortunately, private companies aren’t the only guilty parties in this regard (ahem…UTC, TVA). Downtown streets should not be abandoned for private purposes (for that matter, downtown streets should not be abandoned for public purposes*). The fine-grained network of streets that defines a downtown make pedestrianism possible, provide a variety of alternatives for drivers, make infrastructure delivery efficient, and normalize wayfinding. The kicker is that once those rights-of-way are abandoned they are essentially lost forever (even if that business moves or goes out of business in a decade). Our community, present and future, loses its shared inheritance of public space.

Reducing the size and government is an admirable aim. Let’s be mindful, however, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Did I mention how I loathe LSU (no offense intended to the LA students) and how I can’t wait for November 5th?

*I wish I had nickel for every charrette I’ve attended where a well-meaning citizen has suggested that we close a road to make a pedestrian mall. That is very rarely a good solution.


99% Entertaining

In the last two days I have read more blogs and tweets than I have in the past year. I am fascinated by how events in The City are going down. For those who are not aware, thousands of people have gathered to protest against…well…pretty much everything. The epicenter is Wall Street but there are similar “occupations” in cities around the country. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the sentiment(s), the whole spectacle is immensely compelling.

Any questions?
I must admit, however, that I find it compelling for its entertainment value as well. I love conspiracies theories. I don’t believe in the Pentaverate, or the nefarious nature of the Bilderberg Group, but I am a sucker for a good story. There are tons of interesting stories and theories coming out of the current events: social media platforms caving to their corporate donors to prevent trending, traditional media being censored, Radiohead showing up for a free concert, and corporate payoffs of police departments for protection.

Conspiracies are much better when accompanied by graphics.
Apparently, this has been going for three weeks, but I didn’t hear anything about it until somebody tweeted that Radiohead was going to do a free show there. I turned to the mainstream news websites to find out about what was happening and got nothing.  There are, at times, thousands of protesters (700 of which were arrested for shutting down the Brooklyn Bridge) and at 5:00pm on Sunday night CNN has no mention of that while featuring the following stories: “Elizabeth Hurley, cricketer engaged” , “Giant pumpkin weighs 800 lbs.”, and “Football game ends in brawl”. I’m not exactly sure what the protesters are all about, but regardless of their point of view, the assemblies qualify as news. (update: as of Monday morning there are a number of stories in major media outlets.)

Politics and conspiracy theory aside, how is this influenced by urban design? Political protests around the globe follow an easy recipe. The aggrieved parties go to their most important shared civic space and make their voices heard. These are places like Tahrir Square, Tiananmen Square, Gamal Abdel Nasser Sqaure, Triumfalnaya Square, Zuccatti Park (formerly Liberty Plaza). Note that these places were not designed for the single purpose of staging protests. These civic spaces were designed to accommodate a broad range of peaceful and productive community activities and to serve ceremonial purposes as well. Regardless of the purpose, most communities have an understanding of where the citizenry gathers for purpose, their communal center. If you take a broad view of human history, you could argue that the primary purpose of the city is to serve that function.  

For a moment, forget all of the myriad problems created by the suburbanization of our country save communal gathering. The current model of the American city is in no way conducive to the spontaneous (or even planned) gathering of the community in a single place that has a shared value to the community**. In that sense, our cities have failed to fulfill what is perhaps their primary purpose. Yet another failing of the sub-urban model.

Lest you think I am all doom and gloom, there are indeed cities in our country that defy that model in terms of communal space. Chattanoogans happen to be some of the fortunate few living in such a place. If there came a time for Chattanoogans to protest or revolt (I am not encouraging protests or revolutions, this is purely a “what if?”) how do our current land use patterns support that activity? Will the revolution be televised from the Kohl’s at Eastgate Town Center? Will the masses gather in the Abuelo's Mexican Food Embassy parking lot at Hamilton Place? Of course not. Our community knows that downtown is our community gathering place. Fortunately, those communal gatherings have been (mostly) peaceful events centered around alcohol music: Riverbend, Wine Over Water, Nightfall, River Rocks, and list goes on and on and on.

Pissed Chattanoogans? No, Chattanoogans getting pissed!

Thirty years ago, the Design Studio had a dual-goal in an effort to aid the rebirth of our downtown. The first was return to the river, the birthplace of our city, our “front porch”, Ross’s Landing. The second was to reestablish a “heart” of the city, Miller Plaza. Both of those places are generous, accessible communal gathering places. They are essentially the two “go to” venues for community activities. Yet, if our community was to protest something (again, not advocating, merely musing), I don’t believe we would use either of these places (although I seem to remember the TEA party having a shin-dig at the riverfront). For my money the best protest site in town would be Miller Park.

I don't think Ross's Landing is a good place to protest. it's
hard to stay angry in a beautiful place right next to a river.

Why would protesters chose Miller Park over Miller Plaza? Despite the fact that it has an almost bucolic, oasis-like feel at times, the Park has just enough of an edge of modernist austerity to make it protest-worthy. The Park is also sandwiched in-between two imposing institutional buildings- focus points for objectors. On the other hand, the Plaza has a more human-scaled design that just doesn’t seem congruent with righteous indignation…it’s a happy place.

Now that's a place where I can get pissed!

On the macro level, what remains to be seen is whether these national protests will prove to be the American Autumn following the Muslim Spring or if this was just a bunch of slackers angling to get a free Radiohead concert. Closer to home, we need to be continuing our discussion on civic priorities and on the stewardship of our inherited environment.

**Note, this is not a conspiracy theory that the powers that be influenced the development patterns of our country to deprive the masses of a suitable place to protest…or is it…