published Monday, April 12th, 2010

Challenges for Chattanooga: Schools, crime, jobs


by Chris Carroll

SURVEY QUESTIONS

* What do you like about the Chattanooga region?

* Imagine the best possible Chattanooga. Describe it.

* What challenges must be addressed?

* What actions, big or small, can you take to help?

FACTS

* 26,000 surveys taken during fall 2009; translates to 1.2 million data points

* 19 percent from online questionnaire, 81 percent from face-to-face encounters

* 99 percent provided ZIP codes, allowing organizers to group people by neighborhood, along with similar interests

* $430,000 budget

* See the results at www.chattanoogastand.com

Source: CreateHere

Education, crime and jobs inspire conversations every day, but people aren't sick of talking about them.

The proof comes from Chattanooga Stand, the largest community visioning survey ever administered, in which 26,000 area residents named the three buzzwords as the city's biggest challenges.

"If I were a politician, I would be a fool not to be interested in this," said Helen Johnson, co-founder of CreateHere, the organization that ran the survey. "Because it's what the voices of 26,000 people said in my community."

The Stand team used a four-question survey to determine what residents already enjoy about the community, what "the best possible Chattanooga" is, what challenges the city needs to address and what each responder can do to improve his or her surroundings.

All the responses were released online today. The next step is taking data to "the real innovators and power people in the city" and aiming for change, according to CreateHere staff fellow Bijan Dhanani.

Within the next two years, CreateHere will host three major summits devoted to education, crime and the environment. They anticipate splinter groups to handle smaller issues stemming from the big three.

"Before that, we hope people take these results and run with them," Mrs. Johnson said.

It's not the first time a communitywide survey has been implemented in Chattanooga. The responses gathered from Vision 2000 inspired the downtown riverfront project and the Tennessee Aquarium.

"Our city was no longer the butt of our own jokes," CreateHere co-founder Josh McManus said.

Drawing a contrast from Vision 2000, the Stand team emphasizes its survey's ability to connect people to ideas instead of places. Organizers said participants had the toughest time answering the question of how to change "impenetrable" systems.

"They don't think there's anything they can do to impact crime or education" Mr. McManus said. "That is tremendous potential just hanging out there for the community."

Mr. McManus said he was happy to see education take the top challenge spot.

"You know what education and crime over jobs says?" he said. "They value quality of life over quantity of bank account. That's a unique attribute of people in this area."

Stand's team developed several search capabilities into its Web site, allowing visitors to group survey results by demographics, theme, neighborhood and more.

"Even if 1 percent, if 250 people measurably change the way they interact with the community, that would be huge," Mr. McManus said.

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Stand community visioning campaign sets record

Article: Youths take Stand to improve Chattanooga

Article: Community vision survey results to be released next week

Article: Chattanooga: Fresh eyes, new vision

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