Seeing Green in the Scenic Chattanooga Region


Thrive Regional Partnership Uses Geodesign Methods and Technology to Plan a Sustainable Future

From UTC IGTLab’s outdoor recreation map for Thrive

From UTC IGTLab’s outdoor recreation map for Thrive


Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the surrounding region have some of the best outdoor recreation areas in the southern United States. The area is also a hub for startups that have grabbed the attention of big business. The local Amazon Fulfillment Center and Volkswagen’s assembly plant have brought in thousands of jobs. With the population growing, the number of visits to scenic vistas such as the Tennessee River Gorge and Lookout Mountain have gone up. Traffic also has increased on the area’s trail networks. To sustain the region’s natural treasures—from trails to caves and forests to wetlands—local organizations work together using a geodesign approach to plan the conservation of these areas.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Interdisciplinary Geospatial Technology Lab (IGTLab) is assisting in this effort, providing the nonprofit Thrive Regional Partnership and its stakeholders with the publicly available Thrive Region Geo-Data online platform for open data, analysis, and design, which is powered by Esri ArcGIS.

IGTLab uses ArcGIS as the framework for understanding the land’s ability to serve the growing community in a sustainable way as it practices geodesign. Geodesign combines stakeholder input, creative design techniques, rigorous methodologies and spatial analysis and mapping to find the most suitable, environmentally-friendly and sustainable options for how to use space.

The IGTLab keeps a database of protected lands, trails, and access points of the region to ultimately track how much and how fast the region is conserving land. We develop models, maps, and tools defined by the organizations that do the work of conserving land, protecting habitat biodiversity, and promoting biodiversity. We host the models on ArcGIS Online so that partners can access the data and integrate it into their own work.
— Charlie Mix, Director, UTC IGTLab

Thrive promotes smart, responsible growth in the tri-state Chattanooga region, focusing on economic development, education, transportation, and conservation. To create conservation goals for the region, Thrive formed the Natural Treasures Alliance. This alliance is composed of over 40 entities including local governments; conservation, outdoor recreation, tourism, and philanthropic groups; and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as The Trust for Public LandOpen Space Institute, and The Nature Conservancy. The alliance works to ensure that future generations can access healthy forests, clean water, wholesome food, and green spaces.

Along with the Natural Treasures Alliance, Thrive Regional Partnership—an NGO itself—facilitates a citizen-led, multifaceted planning approach that considers economic development and ecological factors for regional improvement. The goal is to create a region where human and natural systems thrive together. By using geodesign to support green infrastructure planning, Thrive and its partners have committed to collaborative planning approaches to sustain the natural assets of the greater Chattanooga region for generations to come.

Over 15 years at Esri, Barbara Leigh Shields has authored hundreds of articles about GIS technology, spanning more than 40 industries. Before joining Esri, Barbara worked as a business analyst for the County of Tulare, where she performed legal analysis, cost assessments, and program implementations. She holds a master’s degree in English and a bachelor’s degree in business. Barbara also has taught graduate-level business communications at California State University, San Bernardino.