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.