What Chattanooga’s visionary urban planning has done in the past is to help the city dream. The methods may be invisible to most non-professionals, but the results are not: the Aquarium and its surrounding blocks, Coolidge Park, Walnut Street Bridge, the riverfront, the Riverwalk, the first few blocks of a revived Main Street, the Southside, Stringer’s Ridge.
The visible part of that iceberg may look like the result of just holding a few public meetings, creating a plan and building it out. But effective public engagement is best understood as a structured way of helping people dream about a new city. For the dream to work, it has to emerge simultaneously not just from the heads of designers, developers and investors, but also from regular people who couldn’t care less about design and development.
It’s a crazy balancing act, and it needs to happen again. That’s what I want to see from the new mayor: a return to the kind of urban dreaming that reshapes the city. Not instead of dealing with crime, education and economic development, but as an integral part of the whole agenda. When urban design is done well, it draws everything else in and supports other priorities.