Chattanooga studying use of public space in Innovation District [document]

Nineteen-month-old Kolton Kerr plays with inflatable beachballs during the EPB Big Gig Community Festival at Miller Park on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The event was hosted to celebrate EPB nearing the milestone of serving 100,000 customers.

Volunteers will canvass Chattanooga's Innovation District Thursday and Saturday to observe how people use public spaces in the city's downtown area.

There will be no questions or interaction with the public, rather, volunteers will watch and collect data on how people are using the area. The answers potentially will shape how the city chooses to improve public space in the future.

"We're looking at a process where we'll come up with a public-space, public-life framework plan and design recommendations for this Innovation District," Gehl Studio project leader Geoff Dyck said. "We'll start with a baseline of data collection to understand how the public space and public life of the district is functioning today."

Gehl Studio was hired by Chattanooga Design Studio to oversee the project. The studio has partnered with the Enterprise Center to help with public engagement.

The public life survey was the recommendation of a six-month-long study released in March examining the Innovation District. The study examined ideas that could be developed over the next five to 10 years. This week's survey will be the first phase examining the use of public space and eventually will lead to recommendations for future projects or how to improve existing space. This initial phase will give a baseline about which areas are used and how they are used.

"We hope to reinterpret and enliven a lot these places for a city like Chattanooga for the 21st century," said Ann Coulter, with the Enterprise Center. "And provide a framework of thinking that can be used anywhere in the city."

The survey will include several key questions for the nearly 70 volunteers to examine. They will note the date and weather along with what people are doing. Are people passing through? Are they driving, on bikes or walking? What is their posture; do they stand and mingle, sit and talk, or hurry through on their way to the next place? They will also note whether people congregate in groups in certain areas, recreate in others or travel alone.

"The city happens as it happens. We don't want to pick unusual days. We want to pick typical days with no major events," Dyck said. "Ideally, this is something that continues, a health check, that we try to do seasonally or maybe twice a year."

Planners will sort through the data to see if any further surveying needs to be done once the group gathers the results. That could involve asking for input from users or more observation. The group will then look through the data and develop some pilot project ideas.

Ideas can be wide-ranging, both great and small. Gehl Studio has done similar surveys in more than 50 cities. In New York City, their survey led to the overhaul of Times Square, which closed the square off to vehicles and gave more access to pedestrians. In Lexington, Kentucky, they noticed a water fountain at a community park was being widely used by children for swimming. Parents would bring kids from across the region to swim in the unsanitary fountain. Most of the families couldn't afford to regularly send their kids to the public pool. The city then built a splash pad across the street from the fountain that would be widely used by residents city-wide.

"[Chattanooga has] done a wonderful job in last four decades highlighting public realm and really, really highlighting public spaces," Chattanooga Design Studio Executive Director Eric Myers said. "What this really needs to do, now that we have a pulsive life and pulsive activity, we need to understand how to enhance that to make logical and critical improvements in our city."

Contact staff writer Mark Pace at or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook at ChattanoogaOutdoorsTFP.