Planner Urges Imagination, New Thinking

By: Paul Post
Date: May 2, 2014
News Outlet: The Saratogian

Rethinking the approach to community revitalization is key to its successful implementation.

That’s what municipal planner David Crockett, in the pioneering spirit of his American frontiersman ancestor, told the 100 engineers, architects and government officials gathered Thursday at the 2014 Lake George Low Impact Development Conference at the Holiday Inn.

In 1969, Chattanooga was proclaimed “America’s Dirtiest City,” so polluted by heavy industrial emissions that motorists had to use headlights in the daytime.

Our hospitals were doing a great business,” Crockett said. “There was no EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).”

Today, following a Vision 2000 initiative launched 14 years ago, Chattanooga is one of the most environmentally-friendly, economically diverse cities in the country, and a destination for world-class music, cultural and outdoor recreational pursuits – cycling, climbing, running. Paddlers now traverse clean waters once filled with toxic industrial waste.

The conference was hosted by Lake George Waterkeeper and The FUND for Lake George.

Our natural place nurtures our needs,” Crockett said.

Chattanooga’s turnaround has garnered extensive media coverage including a recent article on the cover of Parade Magazine.

Crockett is a former city council chairman, Chattanooga planning commissioner and director of the city’s Office of Sustainability. He was previously an IBM marketing executive and CEO of a start-up software company.

A place needs to have imagination and connections,” he said. “It’s a new way of doing business about every project.”

Instead of identifying priorities vertically, some at the expense of others, officials should take an integrated approach to policies and their impact on each other as decisions are made. Jobs, economic development, energy, education and the environment should all be considered as a whole. And things should be looked at regionally, rather than isolated at the local level, he said.

Most of the issues that are important – air, water, culture, commerce – don’t know where these little red (boundary) lines are,” said Crockett, pointing to a map.

An extensive multi-use Riverwalk trail, the world’s largest freshwater aquarium, a high-class art museum and the 1890 steel-truss Walnut Street Bridge, a former vehicular span now used by pedestrians, are all cornerstones of Chattanooga’s comeback as a vibrant, thriving city.

However, it wouldn’t have been possible without visionary, smart thinking, which Crockett described as “lobal” instead of global change.

You’ve got to get the mind right,” he said. “We have to change the way we think and that’s lobal thinking. It’s opportunity thinking.”

The same as Davy Crockett led early settlers westward, Crockett – the frontiersman’s fourth great-nephew – told listeners how they can lead their towns and cities into the mid-21st century. Resilience, innovation and building on a sense of place will characterize successful communities, he said.

Tonya Yasenchak, of Engineering America in Saratoga Springs, said she believes Crockett’s lessons can be applied locally.

We have to be thinking ahead, looking forward, so we can put Saratoga on the forefront,” she said. “We can’t be satisfied with the way things are now. We all have to be working together and not just look at our own needs and projects. It’s encouraging to see how far Chattanooga has come. I think we can do some of these same things here.”

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