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MLA Students Design Vital Component to Chattanooga Riverwalk: Southern Extension

Chattanooga Riverwalk: Southern Extension art

The City of Chattanooga has become famous throughout the United States for its forward-thinking, design-led approach to urban revitalization, an approach that has effected a radical transformation of Downtown Chattanooga. An important first part of the renaissance was the implementation of a riverwalk stretching some thirteen miles from Downtown Chattanooga to the Chickamauga Dam. The riverwalk has proved to be very popular with local residents and tourists alike and acts both as a recreational pathway for pedestrians and cyclists and an important commuter route. The City wishes to build on the success of this riverwalk by extending it south from the old Vulcan site near downtown Chattanooga to the base of Lookout Mountain.

The proposed southern portion of the riverwalk traverses a large area previously home to heavy industry, but now mostly abandoned. About five miles in length the walk navigates the west side of Downtown from the old Vulcan site, past Alstrom and PSC metals through the abandoned U.S. Pipe site down into St Elmo Avenue in the South Broad neighborhood. The re-animation of this extensive area is a priority for the City and evidence that things are on the up-turn can be found in the fact that major companies such as Alstrom have recently arrived, and in the continued operation of other companies such as PSC metals. While revival of the entire area may be slow to occur, there is a rich and fascinating landscape with which users of the riverwalk can engage, quite different in character from the existing northern stretch of the walk. More than just a path, the riverwalk becomes a site of encounter with social histories and natural processes, as well as being a catalyst for renewal.

The challenge of designing this vital piece of Chattanooga’s infrastructure was taken up by Auburn University’s first year Master of Landscape Architecture students working under the direction of adjunct faculty Jacqueline Margetts. Using a methodology called generative cartography, this group examined the diverse conditions that play out in the urban fabric of Chattanooga, in order to develop a set of cohesive design interventions along the proposed river walk route. The mapping process elucidates social, ecological, historical, geographical and infrastructural conditions. It has enabled students to develop a deep understanding of the City in order to identify opportunities and provide inventive, relevant design proposals to help propel Chattanooga’s achievements and reputation on a national scale.

Guided by their mapping analysis, students investigated one site each along the proposed riverwalk. The results of these cartographic endeavors and the resulting design proposals of ten inquiring and innovative students where compiled into a report, “Chattanooga 12: Riverwalk Investigations,” edited by Margetts.

The students presented their work at a public forum in Chattanooga in May to stakeholders from the City, heritage groups, developers, architects, landscape architects, and others.  Chattanooga City encourages student work – officials love the energy that students bring to projects and their innovative approach. The city uses student work to inspire their own design professionals. While the City may not use student designs directly, they do find it very valuable as a way of generating ideas that they use frequently. The City has built several projects where the germ of the idea came from student work. The Mayor of Chattanooga is an Auburn Alum, and in a show of support of student involvement in projects, participated in a briefing sessions for the students early on in the project, saying how much student input is valued.

The students produced posters summarizing their work that will be displayed at selected events and meetings in Chattanooga, as well as a book that includes more detailed versions of the student proposals.  The book has been distributed to stakeholders, including the Mayor.

The book is available to the general public at the lulu website and is called Chattanooga 12: Riverwalk Investigationsand is called Chattanooga 12: Riverwalk Investigations.