East Tennessee Regional Initiatives

plan-etPlan East Tennessee (PlanET) is a regional partnership of communities and organizations building a shared direction for the future. PlanET seeks ideas to protect the valuable resources and address the region’s challenges regarding jobs, education, housing, transportation, a clean environment, and community health. The goal is to create long-term solutions or investments in the region and to define the next chapter of the rich history, leaving a legacy of optimism and opportunity for future generations.

Funded by a HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant, PlanET is a three-year process that focused on Anderson, Blount, Knox, Loudon, and Union counties in the Knoxville metropolitan area. PlanET was designed to foster ongoing citizen involvement in planning for the region’s future, develop a regional “blueprint” to guide decisionmaking over the next decades, and increase local capacity for dialogue, collaboration, and action.

Using a three-phase engagement process, PlanET leaders hope to produce targeted, meaningful outcomes. Phase I (August 2011-July 2012) brought community members together to establish a shared identity and vision. Phase II (April 2012-March 2013) took that vision and developed a shared direction through a variety of community-engagement activities. The work being accomplished in Phase III (January 2013-Decemeber 2013) is producing and reporting the final product and focusing on implementation activities. By the end of 2013, over 10,000 individuals will have contributed to the development of an action plan that lays out strategies and tools for implementation. It is intended to serve as a resource for individual communities and organizations to solve tough issues together so that they grow and innovate in ways that benefit the entire regional community.

ET-F - PlanET Image_resized

PlanET Community Workshop (source: Amy Brooks)

Stretching across five East Tennessee counties, the PlanET region included a range of communities and terrain. The people and places are rooted in the Appalachian Mountains, and a strong sense of history and an independent nature define the region. The region is small town friendly with big-city amenities. There are productive farms and places where residents can live away from it all, but there are also suburban and urban neighborhoods and one of the nation’s strongest research and technology corridors. Home to Tennessee’s flagship state university and a number of smaller educational institutions, there are many opportunities for jobs, education, and workforce development in the region’s center. There is a wealth of natural and recreational assets, including Norris Lake, the Tennessee River, and part of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park that support the region’s stellar tourism economy. The low cost of living makes the region more affordable than many other metropolitan areas.

Despite all of the assets, there are challenges to the region’s livability. There are economic and social disparities and physical issues relating to growth and development. Many of the residents live in poverty and have limited employment prospects. Many of the streams and lakes are becoming polluted, and poor air quality is affecting the region’s health and its environmental assets. And the majority of the region’s households are spending large portions of monthly income on transportation—not just because of rising gas prices, but because so many of the homes are located far away from the region’s employment and commercial centers.

The region’s challenges today will be compounded by the population growth forecast over the next three decades. PlanET was undertaken to address these challenges before they become insurmountable, ensuring that the region remains beautiful, becomes healthier, and offers pathways to success for all. PlanET is designed to develop strategic solutions to region-wide problems by bringing local officials, community and business leaders, and residents together to plan for the region’s future. The goal is to improve livability for all who live in the region now and for the next generation of residents and workers.