A Global Spotlight for a Chattanooga Trio

Amy Donahue

The Netherlands’ capital city of Amsterdam received a little taste of the Scenic City in October for the international event “Placemaking Week” hosted by Project for Public Spaces, (PPS).

Stephanie Hays, Manager at the Tomorrow Building, Mary Stargel, Program Manager at The Edney, and Meagan Shinn, Program Director at River City Company, spoke and led a placemaking workshop on how Chattanooga’s working together activates our Innovation District.  

PPS, headquartered in New York and the organizer of the conference, views placemaking as “a people-centered approach to planning, design and management of public space.”

Over 400 proposals for this conference were submitted from 65 countries and an interdisciplinary team from the U.S. and the Netherlands selected the final presentations with less than one-third of the speakers coming from the U.S.

All centered on the Innovation District, Stephanie Hays shared Lamp Post Properties' efforts to revitalize historic buildings. Mary Stargel shared how creating density and collaboration among startups and corporations has accelerated business growth and attracted new talent and companies. Finally, Meagan Shinn discussed how River City Company works to create a unique sense of place through animation activities like Passageways. To conclude their presentation, the Chattanooga team tasked a room full of placemaking experts to come up with ways to animate and program Miller Park, a public park in the heart of Chattanooga’s Innovation District currently under construction.

“One of the highlights of our experience was getting to explore Amsterdam and learn from a thriving, innovative city that’s made placemaking a long-time priority,” Stargel says.

Praised for its focus on biking as a primary mode of transportation, Amsterdam is seen as having one of the most exemplary, people-centric transportation systems in Europe. The city also is a global leader in sustainability, not only because of its focus on walking and biking but also because of its smart urban design and unique community initiatives, and the fact that it is seen as one of the most socially inclusive cities in Europe.

“While creating the presentation for our international audience, it was incredible to understand that the work being done now in Chattanooga is built upon 30 years of hard work, dedicated leadership and a unified vision,” Shinn says. “The community is the expert on making a city a good place to live. Placemakers come from all industries and backgrounds and when we work together, we make our cities a better place.”

Placemaking initiatives explored at the conference and shared in the Chattanooga team’s presentation focused not only on large-scale, high-cost endeavors like renovating buildings and building new community spaces but also what PPS terms ‘Lighter, Quicker and Cheaper’ options. These are simple, short-term and low-cost solutions practically any city can implement. Examples include one day events, adding creative seating, community art projects or temporary food and retail markets.

“Once we taught them how to pronounce Chattanooga, people were very surprised to hear how many things were happening in our city,” Hays says. “People from all over the world were genuinely curious to hear how they could replicate programs or ideas that work in Chattanooga in their own hometowns, wherever those may be.”

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