Though only the fourth-largest city in Tennessee at 155,500 residents, Chattanooga has served as a model in urban waterfront revitalization since the city began its process twenty years ago. A former industrial center, Chattanooga’s land along the Tennessee River was once so polluted that it bordered on uninhabitable. This same land is now its primary tourist attraction. The City of Chattanooga’s riverfront vision, entitled “The 21st Century Waterfront,” was a $120- million, 129-acre project that used the Tennessee River as the primary resource to revive the city’s downtown. Objectives central to the plan include:
The return to the river is now complete; the river banks are now lined with an aquarium, art museum, children’s museum, carousel, theaters, green space, public art, and pedestrian bridge and promenades. Chattanooga’s main innovation was capitalizing on public-private sector partnerships that planned, funded, and implemented the project.
Chattanooga planners used of public investment as a catalyst for private development, creating smart and attractive urban design along the waterfront with city and state dollars that encouraged private investment. For example, while the three museums, public space and public art was funded by the government, the River Pier Landing received huge support from private developers, for retail as well as residential projects. This has made Chattanooga a model of urban revitalization for cities nationwide.
Chattanooga’s success can also be attributed to its ability to integrate ongoing civic input into a vision that was guided by professionals who used urban design to spur the waterfront’s long-term revitalization. Some of the riverfront’s urban design challenges included filling the river, constructing a major city pier, narrowing a busy roadway, reconnecting the waterfront to downtown, and redesigning its public spaces so that the waterfront would become a pedestrian-friendly district.