Now, here's the thing. Tactical urbanism sometimes is done in concert with a city. If a city really wants to get stuff done, sometimes they'll set up temporary bike lanes and remove parking to see what, what it looks like to redirect traffic. And honestly, a dream of ours would be to work with the city in this capacity. But until the city is, is willing to take on some of these projects and concert with us, we're just gonna do it ourselves.
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Hey, everybody, it's Shout Your Cause, Sally Hendrick here. And today I've got a very interesting guest because I don't know who it is, but I do know that he is representing the Chattanooga Urbanist Society, and there are other people as well, but I wanna know more. This is where, and I'm, I'm like this, I tend to go around and look for interesting, interesting things online on TikTok especially. And I ran into this, uh, project that was being done with a bench that was being built, and it really caught my eye. And I reached out and said, Hey, let me interview you. Not, not just because, uh, you're in Chattanooga and I'm in Nashville, but also because you are doing something out there to, uh, maybe jiggle the wires around and, and get people's attention. Tell me what's going on.
Yeah. Hey, I, uh, I'm, I'm part of a anonymous mutual aid group here in Chattanooga. We call ourselves the Chattanooga Urbanist Society. And, uh, we, we want to promote a safer, more pedestrian friendly urban environment in Chattanooga. Um, and so how we started was showing up to city council meetings, talking, chatting, and when we realized we would be waiting forever to get things, you know, changed or settled with the city, we decided to start doing projects ourselves without permission. So, uh, our, our first project was putting up a guardrail, um, that a car had knocked out on the bridge. We saw pedestrians walking by it every day. There was a 20 foot drop. And, uh, we noticed that the city had put up some caution tape and that was it. And that wasn't gonna stop someone from falling. So we're like, you know what, un until they put up the permanent guardrail, we're gonna put up a temporary one, something that will stop someone that'll make it safe. And we posted that online, we had zero followers, and it got 200,000 views. And we realized this is resonating with people, and people started reaching out. So we decided to plan bigger and, and do more.
You know, what's funny about it, I didn't even know that was you and I saw that video as well.
Oh, crazy. Yeah, if you go back at the, uh, on our TikTok page, you'll see that was our, our first video we posted was, uh, was taking care of that issue.
Well, good. It looks like, uh, TikTok brought you back around to me again because the next, the video that I saw next was the one with the bench. Would you tell me the story behind that?
Yeah, certainly. So, uh, Chattanooga, like a lot of cities since Covid is facing a issue with houselessness and an increase of houseless people in the community, and, uh, one of the solutions that our, our mayor decided to take action on was to remove some benches from downtown. And what's funny is, uh, around that time, the head of the New York City Parks and rec department spoke at our, at our, to our city council members and said, if you don't have enough benches, the solution is to build more, not to take away what's already there. And the city took him down, said it was temporary, didn't give a sunset period, didn't explain how it was gonna solve the problem. So we decided we're gonna build a bench and not just build a bench, but we are gonna put a message on it. We made it standout. So we partnered with a local street artist, made a really bright standout type of bench, and we put it in a park that we knew had a lot of traffic and also was not a concern for people loitering there. Like, it shouldn't matter that people loitering in a park. That's what parks are built for . And so, uh, we put up the bench and overnight it got attention, the attention of the people in the community. And within 72 hours, the, uh, the mayor's office sent in a work order and had that bench replaced, put back.
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Had the bench put back the original from the city or had yours taken out?
They, they had the original. So here's what happened is we posted it, it got, we put the bench up, it got a lot of, uh, activity on social media, and then, uh, the local newspaper and a local news channel both picked up the story and the, the, the mayor's office made an official statement saying, we were always planning on putting the benches back in January. We will make sure that a work order goes out to put up this one first. And so the mayor even came out with a statement as early as yesterday saying the bench showing up had nothing to do with them deciding to put that bench back. That was always the plan. It just happened to coincide within, you know, two days of us putting up our bench.
Two days. Yeah, right. .
Yeah. And, and there were nine benches downtown. The odds of the first one going back up was the one that we replaced that, you know, I, we don't, we don't, we would love it. We would love for it to be a coincidence, we really would. But, uh, we retrieved our bench and, um, we're, we're going to hold back, see what the city does. If all nine benches aren't replaced in January, we're gonna replace our bench with one of the ones they didn't put up, re-put up as they said they would.
Interesting. That sounds good. I wanna see if that actually happens, and I'm sure I'll, I'll see it on your social media if everybody follow, um, the social media. In fact, I wanna tell you guys, TikTok is where I first found you and didn't you say that's at chat, C H A T T Urban Society, and then if you go to Instagram, it's the full name Chattanooga Urbanist Society. And Urbanist is U R B A N I S T.
Yep. That's both correct.
Yay. Good. I got it. Right. And these, these guys, you guys are working on a website and everything. Do you have any other, what are some other examples of projects that you would be getting involved in?
Yeah, the type of work, uh, that we are doing is what's sometimes called a tactical urbanism or gorilla urbanism. And examples of this run the gamut, A famous example was this guy who realized that this interstate signage was confusing and people could never find his house. So he researched how to make official interstate signs made one installed it in the middle of the night, and that sign has been up for 40 years in southern California. It looks like the, the state built it. And, and that's an example of someone just doing the work themselves, building something out. Um, now here's the thing. Tactical urbanism sometimes is done in concert with a city. If a city really wants to get stuff done, sometimes they'll set up temporary bike lanes and remove parking to see what, what it looks like to redirect traffic. And honestly, a dream of ours would be to work with the city in this capacity. But until the city is, is willing to take on some of these projects and concert with us, we're just gonna do it ourselves.
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So some things we have going on right now, um, most city bus benches or most bus stops in Chattanooga do not have a covered bench or even a bench at all. So our current campaign is called Benches for Bus Stops, and we're gonna build 50 plus benches this year, place at bus stops. Um, we're using reclaimed wood, we find at a construction site dumpsters. We're partnering with local artists to make them look beautiful, and we're anchoring them either to the sidewalk to the ground or chaining them to the posts so that they're harder to take, um, or move. And essentially we're just going to build those. Our goal isn't strict activism per se. These aren't all gonna have strong political messages attached to them like the first Bench did. They're really meant to be something that's useful for someone that needs it.
I love that. And you know what, I like the fact that you're using local artists to help you paint these things and to, uh, make them really fun and appealing and meaningful. One thing that we did not talk about before we started recording is that my husband and I, my husband actually and his board have just opened a museum. It's the Graph Museum, which is a graffiti museum. We actually salvage, um, gr really good graffiti off of trains Oh wow. And, and have amassed quite the collection. And we had our first open house in December.
I I love it. You, um, there's a local street artist called Art for All Peoples. Um, at Instagram, it's at Art for All Peoples. And essentially since the pandemic, this individual anonymous as well has been, or maybe it's a group of people, I don't know, they're very prolific, have been putting up art around town on poles, uh, like light poles. And they actually have done, did our first bench and did our other two benches. Now we've since got other street artists and local artists who were sh giving benches to, to paint. But yeah, um, I think that our initial campaign would not have been successful, um, had the bench not been beautiful, stood out and had a very strong message behind it. Um, so yeah, I think that that artists are very powerful component of our work.
I love it. I love it.
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And I love the fact that it's k you've kind of got this subculture underground society, uh, feel to this. It's a little mysterious, it's a little fun. It's maybe a little bit dangerous, if you will, I guess if, if you do get in trouble with any authorities for anything. Uh, but overall, you've got the Robinhood idea of, Hey, let's, let's, let's work together. Let's get this done. Let's really help people who need, you know, these benches or this guardrail or whatever we're talking about everybody in society, in your area who is getting the benefit of the various projects you're doing. So I love the way that you're doing it. You're basically giving them the example of exactly what you want them to do.
Y and I think a big component of it is this is we will work with anybody, but we won't wait on anyone. We don't, we, we will never endorse a politician, but we will endorse actions. So if the mayor does something that we think is beneficial, we'll we'll shout that message from the rooftops. But we'll, one benefit of being this sort of incognito group is that there's no one that leads us, no one that can be controlled as a group. Uh, it, it's kind of got like this anarchy edge to it, but a lot of, a lot of us are architects, engineers, you know, people wearing shirts with pocket protectors. We're not, we're not who you'd usually see, uh, you know, doing work in the night. In fact, a lot of the times we, we've done high visibility, safety vests and do it right in the middle of the day.
People don't question it. It's like, oh, that person looks official with a measuring tape on a bridge. But little they know it's just this person who works in it, uh, making a guardrail out of, out of garbage wood. Um, but, uh, I think something else that's important and crucial as well is that those of us in the group who can use our privilege, um, can do so without putting other people at risk. So, um, you know, it's, it's no secret that if you look at our videos, you'll see it looks like a a, a white dude doing the work. That's because they're probably gonna get in less trouble if they're caught digging through a dumpster in the middle of the night, um, or doing something. So we're all here to protect each other. And part of that anonymity is both for protection of the most vulnerable people in our group, but also to make sure that no one person gets credit. We're a very collective effort.
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Well, one last question I have for you. What is your hope of what you think will come of this? What's your hope for the future with it?
Great, great, great question. We think a lot of issues that Chattanooga faces at a community as a community are systemic and built into the fabric of our laws, our zoning laws, which are very exclusionary right now. And at some point we want those to change. But until they do, we're gonna design a built environment that's centered around pedestrian dignity, public transit, multimodal transportation and accessibility. So our goal, yes, we would love policy change and we're gonna be here for it. And publicly we all advocate for it, but privately we're just going to build the world We want to see. We're gonna paint bike lanes where there weren't bike lanes. We're gonna make, um, crosswalks stand out. We're gonna neck down traffic and, and, and also put up memorials to pedestrians that have been hit around town. Everything that we do is going to be what we want to see the city do, but we're just not gonna wait on them to do it.
Love it. You're really brave.
And, and here's the thing. I think we would measure success when, or at least for me personally, when we start seeing stuff like this pop up that we had no idea was popping up the first time we see a bus bench that doesn't look like one we built, that's when we know this worked because someone just got inspired to go do it themselves. They didn't need to be a part of the movement. They didn't need permission. And that's our, our real goal is to inspire other people to take the same action.
Excellent. Well, I love it. Thank you for coming on to the podcast today.
Thank you for having us. We're, we're so appreciative for you help, you know, getting, getting this message out there
Anytime. Thank you for listening today. My name is Sally Hendrick. Be sure to visit our website for show notes and more information on how you can inspire others. If you would like to contribute content to our magazine, please apply on our website at shoutyourcause.com.