Next City Hosts 5th Annual Vanguard Conference Thursday-Saturday

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The national non-profit media organization Next City will host its fifth annual Vanguard conference in Chattanooga. Vanguard is an annual experiential urban leadership gathering of "40 of the best and brightest urban leaders under 40." 

These leaders are working to improve cities across sectors, including urban planning, community development, entrepreneurship, government, transportation, sustainability, design, art and media.

They will convene in Chattanooga Thursday through Saturday for a three-day series of presentations, workshops and neighborhood tours. The Vanguard conference will culminate in the Chattanooga Challenge, an ideas competition sponsored by the Footprint Foundation and designed to jump-start civic local innovation through a $10,000 grant for the winning proposal.

The 2014 Vanguard class includes leaders in government, such as the chief innovation officer for Kansas City, an alderwoman from St. Louis and other government officials in cities from New York to San Francisco. It includes representatives of national institutions such as the Nature Conservancy and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation; leaders of place-based organizations like the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation and Transportation Alternatives; and a host of people working on issues surrounding the built environment, urban livability and civic tech.

A full list of Vanguard members follows below and is also available online here. 

During Vanguard, readers can see live updates from the Vanguard class by following the hashtag#Vanguard14 and @nextcityorg on Twitter. After the event, coverage of the event will be available on NextCity.Org.

The 2014 Vanguard class will join over a dozen alumni from previous conference years, Next City staff and board members, and the local host committee for two days of activities that highlight best urban practices in Chattanooga.

In addition to workshops led by national experts on cities and Vanguard members, the group will take part in several localized activities. Vanguards will participate in one of four tours of the city, which will offer opportunities to compare and contrast diverse inner- core neighborhoods. Traveling by bike, one group will tour through the North Shore and the Hill City neighborhood and discuss issues surrounding gentrification, the creation and preservation of natural spaces and improving connectivity to natural amenities. Another tour will head south by trolley to explore the Southside community and the commercial Broad Street corridor, focusing on managing growth, attracting residents and future investment, as well as improving connectivity between the Southside to the historic St. Elmo and Alton Park neighborhoods. 

Vanguard members will also hear talks given by local leaders including Mayor Andy Berke, Ann Coulter of A. Coulter Consulting, Rick Montague, former president of the Lyndhurst Foundation, local architect Eric Myers and David Cook, city columnist for the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

This year’s Vanguard will leave a legacy in Chattanooga through the Chattanooga Challenge. In this locally judged competition, Next City Vanguards will be invited to envision ways to strengthen existing or create new connections in Chattanooga. How can the city support better transportation and bike infrastructure? How can both the built environment and parks encourage connections across class and race? What kinds of projects or policies could be implemented to better connect all people to opportunity? What are other societal divisions that need to be bridged? 

On the final day of the conference, Vanguards will present a proposal for a specific local initiative designed to improve connectivity. A panel of judges comprised of members of the mayor’s Chattanooga Forward taskforce will select a winning proposal to be given a $10,000 grant administered through Causeway, a Chattanooga based civic engagement platform. The grant will support the first phase of the selected initiative.

This seed funding has been pledged by the Footprint Foundation, one of three lead sponsors of this year’s Vanguard conference. “The Footprint Foundation’s approach to philanthropy focuses on place-based grants that support people and programs with innovative approaches for strengthening the community,” says the foundation’s executive director Lisa Flint. “Civic innovation is a thread that runs through Chattanooga’s past, present, and future. The Vanguards epitomize civic innovation and, with the Next City Challenge: Chattanooga, we have an exciting opportunity for local and national civic innovators to exchange ideas and think broadly about improving local connections to place.” 

Over the next several months, Causeway will be expanding from a purely digital platform into a community innovation hub that offers a variety of programming and tools to help Chattanoogans make their city a better place to live.

Anchored by a physical space in the heart of the city and online through their website, Causeway will soon offer Chattanoogans access to a creative studio and simple process to lead the next game-changing idea for their community. The platform will provide events and programming focused on helping people turn their ideas into action. Their official launch will occur May 29, with the studio slated to open to the public mid-summer. 

From Causeway’s executive director Abby Garrison, “Causeway is excited to partner with Next City to provide a challenge that all 40 applicants with bright ideas for cities, experience in the field and ambition for the future can rally behind. We look forward to putting our resources together to help Chattanooga implement the winning proposal. We couldn’t think of a better way to align our focus and programming.”

This year’s Vanguard conference was made possible with generous support from the Benwood Foundation, the Footprint Foundation and the Lyndhurst Foundation, representatives of which served on the local host committee and worked alongside Next City to shape the conference experience. 

The Vanguard host committee consists of local young professional influencers who represent a broad range of organizations. Committee members include: Blythe Bailey, city of Chattanooga; Zach Cooper, AVA; Kate Creason, Tomorrow Today; Lisa P. Flint, Footprint Foundation; Kristy Huntley, Benwood Foundation; Stacy Richardson, city of Chattanooga; Karen Rudolph, Lyndhurst Foundation; Christian Rushing, Studio C. Rushing; Teal Thibaud, Glass House Collective; and Donna Williams, city of Chattanooga.

Sponsors include the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Zipcar. Local supporters include: Association for Visual Arts, Bike Chattanooga, Causeway, Chattanooga Public Library, City of Chattanooga, PechaKucha Night Chattanooga, River City Company, Tennessee Aquarium and Warehouse Row. 

For more information, visit


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