Chattanooga Vision 2000- an inspiring story of citizens transforming their world

The intent is to give people the tools to redevelop their neighborhood sustainably. Here’s one way I see it playing out. (my take on the Chattanooga 2000 process).

1) All the citizens are invited to a “Make our City a Better Place to Live” event ( “A more sustainable town”, etc).

2) The question is asked to the gathering (say at the convention center, a school gym, a big place, a bunch of people)

“What would make our city town a better place to live?”   a thousand post-its go up on the walls.

“Ok! How would we know these things were accomplished?”   Another thousand post-its go up on the walls.

“OK! Go do it!”

So what happens??   A chaos of good ideas and enthusiasm gets set loose.  The Community taps into the greatest resource on the planet; heart felt human ingenuity. 

3) What happened in Chattanooga?  (again in my uninformed memory on what I read) The folks of Chattanooga got back together in 6 months and discovered that many of the one-two year goals they set, were completed in 6 months!!

4) I love my interpretation of what I remember!  Is says we can be living in a great town, filled with creative juice, where the barriers to innovation are lowered.


OK, here’s the real story, according to a write up by the Head Facilitator, Carl Moore.

Case Studies of Revitalization Strategies Working Paper


Problems Being Addressed

By the 1970’s Chattanooga was suffering from general economic decline and downtown

deterioration, brought on by severe environmental pollution, heavy loss of manufacturing

jobs, poor education, racial conflicts, and a decreasing population and tax base. At one time

the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare had called Chattanooga the

dirtiest city in the United States. Air pollution was so bad that people drove with their

headlights on in the daytime, the sky had turned orange, and the turbercu-losis rate was three

times the national average. Moreover, citizens felt pessimistic about the prospect of

politicians guiding the city to a better future.

Catalyst for Change

A handful of local officials, civic leaders, and business executives decided to take action

outside of the political process. They established a non-profit organization, called the

Chattanooga Venture, to help turn the city around. The Venture’s first project was Vision

2000, an extensive collaborative visioning process funded by the Lyndhurst foundation. The

process, which included over 2,000 citizens, created a grassroots, participatory method for

the community to articulate its goals and objectives. The process resulted in a plan called

“Vision 2000,” and ten years later, “Revision 2000.”

The visioning process and the plan stimulated a number of subsequent redevelopment efforts,

including creation of a private non-profit agency to facilitate redevelopment projects

(RiverValley Partners/River City Company), and another private non-profit focused on

eliminating substandard housing (Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise). The plan also

resulted in a number of transportation improvements, undertaken by the Chattanooga Area

Regional Transportation Authority (such as electric buses), and extensive environmental

clean-up efforts. A number of attractions, including a stadium, an aquarium, a restored

theater and bridge, and a cultural center, were developed as a result of the plan.

Consistent with direction from the Gwinnett County Revitalization Task Force, this case

study focuses primarily on the visioning process used in Chattanooga, rather than the

subsequent revitalization efforts.

Major Players

Major players in the visioning process include the Lyndhurst foundation, which provided

funding; the Chattanooga Venture, which was created to manage the process and act as

champion for the resulting plan; the private facilitators hired by the Venture; and the vast

number of citizen participants in the process.

The Visioning Process

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Visioning describes a process whereby citizens come together to articulate a shared vision

for their community. Carl Moore describes community-wide visioning as a process wherein

“a diverse cross-section of residents work together to define the key issues facing a

community and develop shared goals for addressing those issues” (Moore et al 1999, 558).

The process can address issues such as economic development, transportation, education,

culture, environmental issues, race relations, social services, and more. Typically, the

participants will draft recommendations describing how these goals should be achieved.

Visioning can provide several benefits, such as galvanizing a community to action, creating a

participatory culture, creating networks for future collaboration efforts, and shaping future

community leaders. However, visioning can also create an expectation that future projects

will involve similar public participation efforts. It also raises expectations that actions will be

taken on the agreed-upon goals. If action is not taken, the process merely increases

skepticism in the community.

Implementation and Logistics

According to Moore et al 1999, successful visioning involves the following phases:

1. Organizing.

Community-wide visioning can be initiated in many ways, for example, by a small group of

citizens or by a government agency. However, in order for the community to “own” the

process, it is important that elected officials not be solely responsible for designing and

managing the process. It is useful in this stage to gather information about other visioning


The initiating group must first decide who will lead the visioning process. It is useful to form

a steering committee that includes representatives of all the major stakeholders. The steering

committee members should credibly reflect the broader community, have a reputation for

previous work in the public interest, and include strong leaders who believe in the

collaborative process. It is also important that the steering committee members represent

collectively a constituency for change (e.g., members who can leverage resources or can hold

authorities responsible for implementing the plan). A steering committee should not be too

large. In the Chattanooga effort, the steering committee for the two visioning efforts included

more than 50 people representing dozens of different organizations. The group was credible

because of its broad diversity.

After forming the steering committee, the group must form a staff. A paid coordinator is key

to the process, since the volunteers on the steering committee will be focused on process

design, fund-raising, retaining outside facilitation assistance, and publicity and education

efforts. Chattanooga Venture hired one full-time staff member to manage the logistics, a

local resident who was respected and knowledgeable about the community, with no formal

connections to local government, business, or the professional planning community. This

gave the staff member a certain level of autonomy.

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The steering committee or initiating group must then design the visioning process, grappling

with details such as how long the process will take, how many rounds of meetings are

needed, what the agendas should be, and who will facilitate. The process design should

consider a mechanism for tracking and documenting the participants. The process design

effort itself may require a substantial amount of time—for example, in Birmingham, the

initiating committee took a year to design the visioning process.

The last step in this phase is to get the public to participate. This requires a well thought out

publicity and outreach plan. Publicity campaigns should include a name, logo, and slogans to

create an identity for the process. Spreading the message about the effort through radio,

brochures, or newspapers is essential. The outreach component should consider how citizens

from all parts of the community will be reached, particularly those members that are often

underrepresented. Useful outreach techniques include working with existing community

organizations (such as religious organizations, PTAs, or Rotary Clubs). For example, a

rotary group meeting can devote one of its regularly scheduled meetings for input to the

visioning process. Another strategy includes appointing volunteer captains to ensure good


The steering committee must be cautious of overrepresentation by middle-aged, middle-class

participants. There are typically groups of community members that are underrepresented in

these processes, including groups at the far end of the socioeconomic spectrum or the age

spectrum. Including representatives of these groups, and others who might be

underrepresented, in the visioning process takes hard work and strategy. One strategy is to

meet in locations and times that are convenient for them (for example, at high schools, senior

homes, or in places accessible by public transit). Public information materials should

emphasize that meetings are open to all, and that the visioning is truly a democratic process

that equally values input from all participants, regardless of their age, class, race, political

clout, or ethnic background.

2. Conducting the Visioning Process.

Now the visioning process can begin. The first step involves gathering ideas through multiple

meetings held in a variety of locations. Every meeting should give participants a chance to

talk with each other about their long-term goals for the community (small group discussions

are quite helpful). These visioning sessions can yield thousands of ideas about the

community’s future. In Chattanooga, more than 2,000 people participated in two rounds of

meetings (the first round gathered ideas, and the other formulated goals and action items

based on those ideas). Nine meetings were held in one month for the first round, mostly

during evening hours. One meeting was held at a senior center, another at a convention

center where high school students gathered.

The participants at each meeting selected one topic from five potential topics (people, place,

work, play, or government). They were asked to respond to a question about the city’s future.

Facilitators then asked participants to describe their ideas one at a time, and each idea was

recorded on a flip chart. The group then clarified some of those ideas and selected the five

most important items. Each meeting produced a list of ideas with an indication of how

strongly the participants felt about each one, based on the number of votes it received. Even

rtf_final_report_addendum.doc A-25 Case Studies of Revitalization Strategies Working Paper

ideas that received no votes, however, would be considered during the goal-setting process,

as the facilitators informed the participants.

After the ideas have been collected, they must be shaped into goals and action steps. In

Chattanooga, a small group consisting of citizens active in the process and members of the

Chattanooga Venture Board met to review the 2,500 ideas generated. The group then sorted

those ideas into categories and created preliminary goal statements for each category. For

example, Chattanooga’s goal for education was “Excellent public schools, K-12, which are

well funded and actively supported by the community.”

The board of the Venture then held a second round of public meetings, using promotional

materials to increase attendance. Participants split into smaller groups, and each group

discussed one category. The participants then read the list of ideas in that category and

highlighted themes. After the themes were placed on flip charts, the facilitators read the

drafting team’s goal statement. After agreeing upon a statement, the participants then focused

on actions and projects that would be needed to accomplish that goal.

Chattanooga noted a drop off in public participation between the first and second round of

meetings. Thus, some communities use a process where goals and actions are discussed in a

single round of meetings. Whatever process approach is used, it is important to make sure

that the goals reflect public opinion in very clear language.

Organizers must continue their educational efforts throughout the process, not only to ensure

good attendance but also to keep the public informed about the dialogue. Organizers of

ReVision 2000 prepared a magazine with detailed information about the effort, mailed to

every household in the county. Other communities have used a newspaper supplement or

encouraged local newspapers to run articles featuring key issues that would be addressed in

the meetings.

The final step in this phase involves voting. Here, the public is invited to ratify the goals and

action steps. Having the public decide on the goals helps them appreciate the trade-offs

involved. Voting can be organized in many ways. Chattanooga held a Vision Fair at a central

downtown space. Citizens reviewed the goals and actions from the second round of meetings,

and each citizen cast votes for their five favorite actions. Other communities have used fake

money that citizens could put in front of their favorite items. Choosing a central venue, such

as a large commercial mall, helps increase the likelihood of high participation.

3. Implementing the Vision.

This final phase involves implementing the vision. Steering committees must begin thinking

about implementation strategies before the visioning process begins (e.g., while they are

designing the visioning process). This helps the committee strategize about overcoming

possible obstacles.

The most important implementation strategy is to build a broad base of participation and

interests. When residents and community leaders are excited about and invested in the vision,

it is more likely to happen.

rtf_final_report_addendum.doc A-26 Case Studies of Revitalization Strategies Working Paper

The vision must also clearly specify what needs to happen next. Another technique is to

assign individuals or groups to follow through on specific parts of the vision. Yet another key

technique is to incorporate benchmarks and indicators to measure progress. Benchmarks

(which describe a starting point) and indicators (tools for measuring change) help a

community see what progress is being made. In addition, successful implementation requires

leadership, a group or agency that continues to act as the champion for the vision (such as the

Chattanooga Venture). The Venture provided continued support and capitalized on emerging

opportunities to help the vision become reality.

Parallels to Gwinnett County

Although Gwinnett County does not suffer from the severe economic and environmental

pollution problems like Chattanooga faced in the 1980s, Chattanooga’s visioning process

can—and has—been used in many other communities of all types as a tool to help determine

a vision for their future. However, suburban communities face special challenges, as

residents tend to live there because of housing costs and not necessarily because of

government services or because they identify with the area. It is often harder to achieve

broad, engaged participation in suburban communities.

In addition, Gwinnett County may wish to target certain commercial areas for visioning and

revitalization efforts, rather than the entire community. If so, it may be more appropriate to

conduct a charrette rather than a visioning process. A charrette is an intensive and short

visioning process that often focuses on one aspect of community life in a particular area, or a

particular issue like transportation. Stakeholders interested in the issue convene in intensive,

interactive meetings, which can last anywhere from one day to several weeks, while they

design a plan for the issue in question.


Costs of the visioning process vary depending on the design of the process, the educational

materials used, etc. For example, the Chattanooga visioning process, considered the

“Cadillac version” of visioning, cost a quarter of a million dollars. In Los Alamos, New

Mexico, the process cost $80,000 for the facilitating team plus ads in the newspaper and an

educational supplement.

The Lyndhurst Foundation underwrote the Chattanooga effort. In other communities, the

United Way has sponsored the process. Most resources are raised outside of government

through foundations and others who promote community change.

Success Factors for Visioning Process

Factors that explain Chattanooga’s successful visioning effort include the following:

rtf_final_report_addendum.doc A-27

• Generous Foundation Funding. Lyndhurst Foundation funding allowed Chattanooga

Venture to form and conduct a thorough visioning and educational process. Case Studies of Revitalization Strategies Working Paper

• Creation of New Agency to Oversee Visioning Process. The Chattanooga Venture

served as manager for the visioning effort, then served as champion to implement the

plan. The agency helped ensure sustained attention to the plan.

• Extensive Community Input; Participatory, Highly Inclusive Grass-Roots Process.

Citizens in the Chattanooga process really felt as though they had been heard. In

addition, the Venture made strenuous efforts to ensure that typically underrepresented

segments of the population participated. This helped increase community support and

buy-in for subsequent projects. Use of the Nominal Group Technique, which is a tool

for generating ideas and organizing them into a prioritized list, helped make the

process participatory.

• Use of Highly Experienced, Paid Facilitators for Visioning Process. The highly

skilled facilitators brought their wealth of experiences from other communities and

applied those lessons in Chattanooga. The facilitators also trained a group of local

residents to facilitate other events in the future, an effort that met with success.

Community leadership programs are a good source of future facilitators.

• Visioning Process Community-Driven, Not Government-Driven. If citizens perceive

that the process is managed and controlled by elected officials, they will not feel a

sense of ownership of the process.

• Timing—Community Ready For Change, But Not Facing A Narrow Crisis. Timing

is important. The community must be ready for change (which in many instances has

meant exasperation with elected officials, and a sense that politicians cannot lead the

community effectively toward change). However, the community must not be facing

a narrow crisis, otherwise its vision for a comprehensive future will be unduly biased

by that crisis.

• Education and Outreach Efforts; Wide Distribution of Results. The Venture made a

tremendous effort to bring the public in, educate them about the process, and

distribute the results through all forms of media.

• Comprehensive Process (Addressed Many Issues). A community-wide visioning

process should provide a complex, all-inclusive, far reaching view for the future.

• Vision Must be Designed to Lead Directly to Implementation. If the vision is not

designed to lead to implementation, it will not result in positive change and will

merely increase community skepticism. A group or organization external to

government should broker the implementation process.


Chattanooga’s Visioning Process

Carl Moore, The Community Store


rtf_final_report_addendum.doc A-28 Case Studies of Revitalization Strategies Working Paper


Moore, Carl. The Community Store. Interview, February 2002.

Moore, Carl M., Gianni Longo, and Patsy Palmer. 1999. Visioning. In The Consensus

Building Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Reaching Agreement. Edited by Susskind,

Lawrence, Sarah McKearnan and Jennifer Thomas-Larmer. Sage Publications: Thousand

Oaks, CA.

Linton, Brenda L. Economic Development Case Studies: Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA.

Research Triangle Institute, NC.

1 comment to Chattanooga Vision 2000- an inspiring story of citizens transforming their world

  • olivia brown

    Great story! My name is Olivia Brown and I am student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I am doing a research project on this topic, and I would love to ask you a few questions!

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