Mayor Andy Berke spoke by phone Monday on a new initiative, Chattanooga Forward, that will serve as new action plans to improve the city. The initiative will consist of six task forces that will meet over the coming year, generate ideas and bring recommendations back to the mayor in November.
"The goal is to not only meet, engage the public and get recommendations, but then to act," he said.
Each task force will focus on a different area, from affordable housing to downtown development to technology and other quality-of-life issues, and will begin meeting in the next couple of weeks.
An edited transcript of the interview follows.
What is Chattanooga Forward?
Our community has a history of coming together to initiate projects that transform our city. If you look back over the course of our history, we have figured out ways to revitalize our downtown and change the idea of what Chattanooga can be.
Chattanooga Forward is really about putting together the next action plans to build on our unique brand and improve our city.
What issues will these action plans focus on?
We put together six task forces. Each task force will get community input and come back to me with ideas, recommendations, action plans and accountability.
There will be six task forces: outdoors and sports; tech, gig and entrepreneurship; housing; downtown; entertainment and attractions; and arts.
How many people will serve on each task force?
Each task force is putting together its roster right now, so it will vary, but probably in the neighborhood of 10 to 20 a task force.
What can you tell me about the composition of the task forces? Are these community leaders, neighborhood organizers?
I’ve asked the task forces to assemble a diverse group of people—diverse in age, in race, in backgrounds and in ideas—but all with an interest and expertise in a chosen area.
Is there a point person heading up this initiative for you?
We’ve got chairs for each task force.
When will you be making announcements about the individual task forces?
They should be having their first meetings in the next few weeks.
So the committees, or task forces, are already formed, then?
They are not, but they’re hopefully being formed as we speak.
We have chairs, but right now, I believe that they’re working on their membership over the course of the next day or two.
What’s the end goal of this process? What do you hope will be accomplished as a result of this particular approach?
Each area will develop specific action plans and recommendations. I’ve heard again and again from people that they’re ready to see measurable progress in these areas. The goal is to not only meet, engage the public and get recommendations, but then to act.
These areas are different from the four priorities you announced when you came into office and reorganized city government. What are the benefits of this particular approach? And why now?
I have been extremely focused on our goals of public safety, economic and community development, youth development and innovative government.
These task forces help us expand our capacity, to bring in more people and a diverse set of ideas on a wider range of topics.
Obviously, I am still hyperfocused on those four areas. I spend a great part of my day on each of those. By ensuring that other people are participating in these six areas, we receive community buy-in and hopefully a number of great ideas.
Let’s talk about two of these in particular—housing and downtown. What do you mean when you say "housing"?
We have a number of different housing issues in our city that tend to be diverse. When people talk about affordable housing, which is a serious problem in our community, that means different things in different neighborhoods.
Our affordable housing problem downtown is different than our affordable housing problem in East Chattanooga. We want to develop opportunities for our citizens to get affordable, quality housing so that they have the best opportunity and quality of life in our city.
Downtown is another area that means different things to different people. What are some of the goals you hope to accomplish through this process for downtown?
We have precious real estate in downtown. There’s only a limited number of parcels and blocks. Let’s make sure that we’re using those in the best possible way so that we can achieve our goals as a city.
To what extent are downtown and housing related? It seems to me that there’s some overlap on those two issues.
There’s overlap between all of the task forces. If you think about entertainment and attractions, that has something to do with downtown. It also has something to do with outdoors and sports because we have events like Ironman, Head of the Hooch and U.S. pro cycling that fit squarely in both.
If you think about housing, obviously that has something to do with not only downtown, but with our quality of life with arts and how that plays with neighborhoods. I don’t view any of these [task forces] as solitary silos.
By the same token, I want people to understand that when I talk about housing, I’m not talking about downtown housing only. We’re talking about the different problems we have throughout our city and in our neighborhoods.
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