2014 Vanguard Embraces Chattanooga, Proposes Visions for Connectivity

A view of the Tennessee River from downtown Chattanooga (Anthony Smyrski)

Do you miss us yet, Chattanooga? That’s what we are asking this week as we settle back into life post-Vanguard.

Last week, the 2014 Vanguard class descended on Scenic City for an action-packed 48-hour gathering of 40 of the best and brightest young minds in urban design. From our digs at the charmingly chill Crash Pad hostel to sweet-tea-fueled travels around the city’s growing downtown to provocative discussions of inclusion, gentrification and how to best connect neighborhoods, Vanguard was a crash course in today’s most pressing urban trends and issues.

For the first time in Vanguard’s five-year history, this year’s program ended with an ideas competition — the Chattanooga Challenge. Sponsored by Next City, Footprint Foundation and the Chattanooga-based crowdfunding platform Causeway, the challenge was designed to jump-start civic local innovation through a $10,000 grant for the winning proposal.

The winning team of government and civic leaders from across the country suggested that Chattanooga offer free Wi-Fi service to a public housing community on the city’s west side and develop a new pathway to connect the city’s downtown to the highway-marooned neighborhood. Right now, area residents, many of whom are children and downtown workers commuting from public housing developments to school or jobs in other parts of the city, must trek by foot on a dirt path and across highway ramps to reach the city’s center. Where the path enters their neighborhood, residents must pass through a hole in a chain-link fence.

“The neighborhood is physically divided from the downtown at the same time as it is digitally divided from opportunities there,” said Marlon Brown, a city councilman from Mason, Mich. “You have to remember, a city is only as strong as its least connected neighborhood.”

To see photos from the Vanguard and the Chattanooga Challenge, please click through the slideshow below.

Gallery: Vanguard 2014 / Chattanooga

Ariella Cohen is Next City’s editor-in-chief.

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