Romanticism in urban landscapes: parks, tourism, and the rebirth of Chattanooga, Tennessee


Modern cities are increasingly emphasizing the positive influence of nature and greenspace on quality of life for urban residents and tourists. However, the impetus for these innovations and factors impacting their success have not been adequately studied. Is the commodification of environmental amenities (i.e. ecosystem services) a sufficient recipe for sustainable development, or does true nature-based ‘revitalization’ require appeals to deeper sentiments, attachments, and value systems rooted in emotional and esthetic experience (e.g. biophilic and romanticist principles)? This research uses a case study approach to explore the contributions of parks and other green infrastructure to the rebirth of the city of Chattanooga, once the ‘dirtiest city in America.’ Thirty key informants were interviewed to discuss the transformation of the industrial city. Response data were corroborated with secondary sources, photography, and informal consultations. Findings suggest that recognition of both instrumental and intrinsic values of nature and investment in the city’s environmental amenities played a pivotal role in Chattanooga’s rebirth as a popular outdoor mecca and tourist destination. While an emphasis on environmental assets helped the city craft a ‘green vision’ for the future, it was a strong connection to place and collective identity based on these assets that helped sustain that vision and make it a reality. Applications of similar modern romanticist thinking may help catalyze sustainable development initiatives that foster transformations in other aging industrial cities.



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Chattanooga, greenspaces, nature, parks, romanticism, sustainability, USA, well-being

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Journal Title

Tourism Geographies