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Chattanooga's Adventure in Revitalization

In the early 1980s Chattanooga, Tennessee, was reeling from local recession, deteriorating schools and housing stock, and rising racial tensions. Several dozen citizens and the Lyndhurst Foundation formed Chattanooga Venture, an on-going cross-class, multi-racial organization that, over the next decade involved hundreds of people in an inclusive effort to set and achieve community goals. Of the 40 specific city-wide goals set in 1984, most were completed by 1992, at which point Chattanooga Venture again convened hundreds of citizens to create new community goals. Among the goals realized through this process was the creation of a Neighborhood Network which organized and linked up dozens of neighborhood associations and encouraged neighborhood businesses.

Through this process, Chattanooga has revitalized its downtown, now buzzing with electric shuttle busses carrying about a million passengers a year. It has rennovated a grand old theater and other historic buildings, as well as a once-decaying bridge that is now the world's longest footbridge. It has created the world's largest fresh-water aquarium, riverfront walks and model urban parks and greenways that generated not only new stores and restaurants for pedestrians, but also the first U.S. Presidential Award for Sustainable Development, given to the city in 1996.

Projects undertaken by Chattanooga Venture created thousands of jobs and brought in investments of nearly a billion dollars. Its hundreds of projects included day care centers, a family violence shelter, and arts programs. Schools were redesigned, the environment was cleaned up and an innovative program for financing affordable housing was instituted. Chattanooga citizens of all races and classes worked together and began inviting each other to their homes for dinner. A noticeable "can-do" spirit and sense of civic pride has evolved. Businesses, civic groups, government officials and others from around the country have for years been visiting to see for themselves what Chattanooga is doing.

And now The Chattanooga Institute has been formed to advance this process and spread the word. Their vision centers on sustainability and balanced attention to economic growth, social equity, stewardship of the environment and quality of life. They are focusing on recycling energy and waste from -- and back into -- local businesses. They are working with other communities in the region to develop better statistical measures of sustainability and regionally planning a high speed rail link with Atlanta. And they're delivering an ongoing series of workshops on sustainability for the public and visitors. How do they plan to do all this? The same way they always have: "We will involve all citizens in community processes and encourage the formation of public/private partnerships. And we will support the education and empowerment of people at the local level to enable effective change."