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April 2012 | Volume 1, Issue 2  


 Funding and Incentivizing Energy-Efficient Building Retrofits
 Turning Blighted Properties into Pocket Parks: Los Angeles Case Study
 Fireclay Village: A Model for Sustainable Growth
 Grantee Spotlight: Plan East Tennessee


Grantee Spotlight: Plan East Tennessee

Nestled in a valley between the Cumberland and Great Smoky Mountains, the Knoxville area of East Tennessee is surrounded by picturesque views of the Appalachian mountain range. An ideal place to live for the avid outdoors person, the area has abundant open space and a moderate climate. The five counties that form the East Tennessee region — Anderson, Blout, Knox, Loudon, and Union — cover 1,900 square miles and include a combined population of approximately 680,000. While rich in natural resources, the Appalachian region has long struggled with poverty; substandard housing, traffic congestion, limited employment opportunities, and air and water pollution continue to affect the entire region. To help address these challenges, the Knoxville area received a $4.3 million HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant in October 2010. A consortium of partners, which include a number of public agencies and nonprofit organizations such as, Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission, the University of Tennessee, Legacy Parks Foundation, and the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization leveraged this federal investment with significant local funding and is working to create and implement the area’s first-ever sustainable, regional plan.


Participants gather to discuss the future of East Tennessee.
Participants gather to discuss the future of East Tennessee. Image courtesy of Knoxville Regional Transportation Organization.

Plan East Tennessee (PlanET), launched in October 2011, is a regional partnership of communities mobilized to tackle the area’s shared problems and create a more livable region for future generations. As part of the plan, community leaders from across five counties will develop a “blueprint” to guide development over the next several decades. In particular, PlanET will focus on: transportation, housing, economic development/jobs, environment, and community health. The three-year project will be split into three phases. The first phase is the public participation period, where residents and community leaders will establish a vision for the region. In the second phase, the consortium will provide a roadmap for achieving that vision. The third and final phase is adopting the regional plan and developing an implementation strategy.

Currently in its first phase — establishing a shared identity and vision — the PlanET team is aggressively seeking public involvement through a multitude of communication media. A series of six regional forums, the first of which was held in November 2011, focus on assessing the strengths and challenges of the area. In addition to these organized events, the PlanET team encourages input from small group discussions through their Meetings in a Box online toolkit. The toolkit contains all materials necessary to host small group events in the same format as the regional forums. To reach out to residents more effectively, PlanET launched an online forum MindMixer. The web-based tool acts as a virtual town hall, allowing users to submit comments, engage in conversations, and vote on ideas.

The public forums, MindMixer, and Meetings in a Box have already identified noteworthy themes for the PlanET team to consider. For example, in Anderson County, participants noted that housing options need to include opportunities for a younger demographic. In Knox County, homelessness and abandoned or underutilized properties were identified as growing problems, while Loudon County participants feel that economic development is hindered by regional competition. Participants across all counties voiced concerns over a lack of transportation options. According to Amy Brooks, PlanET Project Manager, the most important outcome of this regional plan will be a collective awareness of the need for change. The next step will be establishing a coalition of local elected, business and community leaders who champion sustainability, shepherd the plan forward through implementation, and encourage constructive dialogue.

About the Partnership for Sustainable Communities

The Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a special partnership among the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, coordinates federal housing, transportation, water, and other infrastructure investments to make neighborhoods more prosperous, allow people to live closer to their jobs, save households time and money, and reduce pollution. For more on the Partnership, including the six livability principles that guide its work, please visit our website.


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