American Planning Association Designates Walnut Street Bridge a Top 10 Great Public Space for 2013

Oct 4, 2013

The Walnut Street Bridge in 2005.
Credit Zack Johnston/ Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

The Walnut Street Bridge is the only site in the South to receive a Great Public Space designation this year.

From a media release:

The American Planning Association (APA) today announced the designation of the Walnut Street Bridge as one of 10 Great Public Spaces for 2013 under the organization’s Great Places in America program. APA Great Places exemplify exceptional character and highlight the role planning and planners play in adding value to communities, including fostering economic growth and jobs.


APA singled out the Walnut Street Bridge, a unique linear park spanning the Tennessee River, for its history, amenities, connectivity, and citizen support. This once dilapidated bridge now is a focal point for community events and the link between the city’s vibrant North Shore and the Bluff View Arts District, Hunter Museum of American Art, Tennessee Riverwalk and Tennessee Aquarium.


“The Walnut Street Bridge is not only a symbol of Hamilton County, both past and present, but also a daily reminder of what makes Hamilton County great -- the partnerships between the public and private sectors,” said Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger. “Those partnerships have transformed our community and those links are as strong today as this historic link across the Tennessee River,” he said.


Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said, “The Walnut Street Bridge is an outstanding example of the Chattanooga story.  Chattanooga has been transformed over the last few decades – we are now home to a bustling and active downtown, a Gigabit infrastructure, and world class outdoor opportunities. In the middle of it all stands the historic Walnut Street Bridge, a public space that connects our community, improves our local economy and strengthens our unique sense of place,” Mayor Berke continued.


APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP, said, “The renovation of this bridge into a pedestrian jewel not only saved a prominent landmark, but spurred a riverfront renaissance. The Walnut Street Bridge stands as a symbol of Downtown Chattanooga’s rebirth and a visible reminder of how visionary planning can galvanize and revitalize a community.”


The oldest and largest surviving truss bridge in the South, the Walnut Street Bridge opened to vehicular traffic in 1891. Its closure, for safety reasons, in 1978 reinforced the notion of downtown’s demise. Plans to dismantle the iconic structure were replaced with a novel idea –supported by Chattanooga citizens and pursued by then-Public Public Works Commissioner and later mayor Ron Littlefield, AICP, and other community activists – to transform it into a pedestrian walkway.


A 1985 riverfront plan reinforced the concept of the bridge as an alternative transportation connection and catalyst for riverfront redevelopment and in 1990 the bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Residents, civic leaders and historic preservationists banded together, securing the $2.5 million in federal funds originally designated for demolition, to transform the 2,376-foot-long bridge into a linear park.


Volunteers sold 1,776 plaques to raise additional private funds for the restoration, which ultimately cost $4.5 million. The two-year restoration began on the 100th anniversary of bridge’s original dedication. Today Walnut Street Bridge is the scene of near constant activity from the annual Wine Over Water celebration to users of a climbing wall on a limestone support pier and performances at a 500-seat amphitheater beneath the bridge.


APA’s Great Public Spaces, Great Neighborhoods, and Great Streets feature unique and authentic characteristics that have evolved from years of thoughtful and deliberate planning by residents, community leaders and planners. The 2013 Great Places have many things Americans say are important to their “ideal community” including locally owned businesses, transit, neighborhood parks, and sidewalks. They illustrate how the foresight of planning fosters communities of lasting value.


The nine other APA 2013 Great Public Spaces are: Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Anchorage, AK; Grand Park, Los Angeles, CA; The Broadwalk in Florida’s Hollywood, Hollywood, FL; Norman B. Leventhal Park at Post Office Square, Boston, MA; Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA; Forest Park, St. Louis, MO; Essex County Branch Brook Park, Newark, NJ; Grand Central Terminal, New York City, NY; and Esther Short Park, Vancouver, WA.


For more information about these public spaces, as well as APA’s top 10 Great Streets and top 10 Neighborhoods for 2013 and previous years, visit For more about National Community Planning Month taking place throughout October visit