Hundreds of community planners from across the globe are exploring public spaces in Chattanooga this week, tackling topics from homelessness and processing the pain of the past to building more walkable communities and connecting people through public art.
"It has been amazing," said Josiah Golson, a Chattanooga lawyer and artist who helped organize Placemaking Week. "We are hosting placemakers from Florida, from throughout the South, from Washington, D.C., from Portland."
The international conference created by the Project for Public Spaces visited Vancouver and Amsterdam for its first two Placemaking Week events. The organization was drawn to Chattanooga this year by the city's history of re-imagining and reinventing public spaces, and by organizers' focus on addressing issues of inclusion and equity, said Mary Stargel, director of Innovation District Programs for the Enterprise Center, a Chattanooga non-profit.
"We didn't want to just showcase what's great about the city," she said. "We also wanted to talk about the challenges and the history and the people who have led the way."
The event kicked off Tuesday with a series of mobile workshops to sites across the city, and continues through Thursday. Creating a conference where the city itself is the venue presented some unique challenges, but it was essential to helping the 400 conference attendees understand the Chattanooga experience, Stargel said.
"For a conference focused on place and spaces and people, it was important to not just stay in one place but to get to really experience what people do when they move through our city," she said. Venues for the event include a bike ride on an urban greenway and a visit to Chattanooga's oldest African-American cemetery.
The Project for Public Spaces and the Innovation District of Chattanooga worked together on the event. Collaborating on how to incorporate equity, diversity and inclusion was a key element of the partnership, Golson said.
"Chattanooga is in a really wonderfully unique position to not only showcase its beauty as a city and the incredible work being done to improve and maintain that beauty, but also to come together as we try to figure out how to do that in an inclusive manner that brings everyone to the table," Golson said.
"Our biggest hope is that we'll end this week with a more tightly knit community of placemakers doing this work throughout the city and the region," he said. "We hope this will help us be more connected and look after each other more, not only this week but in the long-term."
Contact Mary Fortune at firstname.lastname@example.org or (423) 757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.