Peggy Townsend readily admits that the space now known as Main Terrain on West Main Street resembles nothing like what planners originally envisioned.
It's way better, says Townsend, the city's director of Public Art Chattanooga in the early 2000s. So much better, in fact, the National Endowment for the Arts has just featured it in a newly published book called "How to Do Creative Placemaking: An Action-Oriented Guide to Arts in Community Development." The 200-page book contains 28 essays from "thought leaders active in arts-based community development" and 13 case studies of projects funded in part through the NEA's Our Town Creative Placemaking program.
Opened in 2013, the 1.72-acre Main Terrain, located near the intersection of Broad and West Main streets, was funded in part from a $250,000 NEA Our Town grant, the Lyndhurst Foundation, the city and other public and private sources. It was designed to deal with water runoff issues, turn an ugly vacant lot into a park with public art pieces, and those pieces are designed to offer exercise opportunities for visitors.
It also creates a pedestrian link between the already-developing East Main Street area and the West Main area, which has received more attention recently with the extension of the Tennessee Riverwalk a few blocks away.
Main Terrain is one of the NEA case studies because it "ticked all of the boxes," according to Jason Schupbach, director of Design and Creative Placemaking programs with the NEA.
"We loved it because it addressed multiple community needs," he says. "It dealt with water drainage issues; it helped restore a pretty terrible vacant lot; and it also has the public health aspect."
Schupbach says Main Terrain is one of the very few spaces in the country to hit all the marks.
"This one is pretty unique," he says. "There are certainly other spaces doing one or two, but this one connects all of the dots to each other and it's a cool piece of public art. It looks really cool."
Townsend admits that was not the original intent, but as it developed, planners realized they had an opportunity to create more than just a piece of land with a static piece of art. Main Terrain's first grant application to the NEA was, in fact, denied because it didn't go far enough, but officials at the NEA saw potential and encouraged Townsend and the city to make some changes and reapply.
"It's harder, but we got a better project because of it," Townsend says.
In addition, "there were a lot of players" involved, she says, "and I think they liked that."
Among the players were city planners and officials, Public Art Chattanooga, Allied Arts — now ArtsBuild — architects, fitness proponents and PlayCore Inc., a local company that makes outdoor recreational and fitness equipment.
North Carolina sculptor Thomas Sayre was chosen to design the interactive public art pieces. They were designed to pay homage to the city's manufacturing past, as well as the restoration work done at places like First Tennessee Pavilion and the Market Street Bridge.
Besides the walking/running track, visitors can get a workout by physically moving the three large pieces. In doing so, they also change the look of the park.
As the title suggests, the NEA book is meant to be a how-to for city planners using examples of how others have done it.
"It's intended to be read and enjoyed, but also to encourage people to do better work," Schupbach says.
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.