Issue One: Community Conversation

Well kids, I’ve left it to the last minute this week, so this will be a brief one. What can I say, the life of a silversmith’s apprentice urban design consultant is not an easy one. (Which is not actually true. I’m blessed and fully aware that in the grand scheme we have it better than 99% of the people on the planet. Just come with me on this one.) In any event, good things come in small packages…

Working in a place over any amount of time presents a unique challenge. Pretty much everything the consultant does is based on some level of client and community education. Cities are complex things that often require complex solutions to complex problems. Cities belong, however, to everyone who lives in them, not only those who understand urbanism. One of the tasks of the planner/designer/consultant is to establish among the citizenry a common level of understanding of basic principles of urbanism upon which more complex concepts can be built.  That, in and of itself, is not a difficult task. The challenge is in maintaining that common base of understanding over time- people forget, people move here, people move away, people die, people are born, people are people. The very lucky places have people and institutions that provide this education and maintain it over time. Places with these frameworks develop a level of education and sophistication that allow them to tackle increasingly complex and difficult issues. Places without these types of frameworks typically end up starting from scratch every four or eight years. 

On that scale, Chattanooga is in-between. For twenty-five years, the Design Studio coached us up. One could argue that outside of the New York’s and Chicago’s of the country, Chattanooga’s level of sophistication in matters of urban design was unparalleled. Such was the depth of this sophistication that eight years after the dismantling of the Studio, it is still on display in efforts such as the Urban Design Challenge and the City Center Plan. Still, eight years is a long time, and a great deal has happened during that time. There are a number of hold-over’s from the old days, but many are no longer with us, and the city is attracting new blood on a daily basis. Growth in the community is a great thing, and the new downtown residents we are attracting are in many ways the end game. The problem this poses, however, is that without leadership in the realm of urbanism and design, we are essentially a rudderless ship. (Please note that leadership in this case is not a person or institution dictating the terms of community development, but a steward of the community conversation of what we want to be when we grow up, and how we want to do it.)

Time to go all McLaughlin Group on you…

Question: How can the community maintain a common level of understanding and elevated conversation over time without a steward of that foundation? Is that even possible? Is it possible to build a great city while starting each process and project at square one?

Answer: It can’t. It’s not. No.


No comments:

Post a Comment