The Enterprise Center shared a vision for the connection between digital equity and placemaking in Chattanooga in February of 2020, noting that “[w]hen the disconnected fall behind the curve in an increasingly online world, they can find themselves alienated from the resources right outside their front door.”
As we wrote that piece for Brookings’ Placemaking Postcards series, we could not have begun to imagine the ways in which the world would change over the next two and a half years: When doors shuttered around the world, the realities of the digital divide — and the inseparability of our digital lives with moments lived in the ‘real’ word — became more apparent than ever.
This week — Digital Inclusion Week 2022 — coincides with Placemaking Action Week, and we’re celebrating both: Placemaking is digital inclusion, and digital inclusion is placemaking. From Tech Goes Home and HCS EdConnect to a new Connected Communities initiative alongside the Orchard Knob Collaborative, The Enterprise Center’s mission, uniting people, organizations, and technology to build an advanced and inclusive future for our community, recognizes the importance of the overlap between our digital and physical lives.
In historic Orchard Knob, for example, we’re working with the Neighborhood Association and EPB to locate new public WiFi locations in places meaningful and trafficked by the community. At the same time, key partners like Parkridge are offering free telehealth visits and Habitat for Humanity and green|spaces are updating homes with new HVAC and smart technologies to keep residents healthier.
This week specifically, Tech Goes Home is hosting one of its signature digital literacy classes for seniors this week at the Eastgate Towne Center, as well as offering help getting our neighbors connected at home through the Affordable Connectivity Program. The Towne Center, which some Chattanoogans still may think of as only a mall, is yet another example of our community’s dedication to placemaking: The Family Justice Center and its numerous co-located agencies (like the Children’s Advocacy Center; Partnership for Families, Children and Adults; and Legal Aid of East TN), the American Jobs Center, the Eastgate Senior Center and a branch of the Chattanooga Public Library all share a parking lot.
We’re also working with our partners at Thrive (and Chattanooga State and the Southeast Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability) to host a Digital Inclusion 101 workshop (Thursday, Oct. 6 at 2pm: register here). While the Regional Broadband Alliance works to support expanding broadband infrastructure efforts in three states, ensuring communities can meaningfully — and affordably — use that access is equally central to its mission. The ‘digital placemaking’ we’ve undertaken isn’t just relevant to Chattanooga’s urban center, but across our region.
Digital Inclusion Week’s theme, “Turning Our Moment into Movement,” recognizes a vital reality: That, even as digital inclusion work — home connectivity, device access and digital literacy — has taken center stage nationally, we can’t lose our momentum locally. More than just the Metaverse, technology and its rapid evolution won’t stop having an impact on us, our neighbors and the places we call home. So we won’t stop working for communities where every resident has the tools, the access, the knowledge and agency they need for (in the Partnership for Public Spaces’ words on placemaking) health, happiness, and well-being.