Skip to main content

Through the Smart Communities Initiative, UT faculty and students in twenty courses have spent this academic year working with the City of Cleveland, Tennessee, on thirteen projects ranging from branding research to revitalization efforts throughout the community.

On Thursday, April 16, their work will be highlighted at an End-of-Year Showcase in the West Club on the fourth floor of Neyland Stadium. The event, from 5 to 7 p.m., is open to the public, and those wanting to attend should RSVP to

The event will feature an exhibition of student work as well as project presentations from the diverse group of students, faculty and City of Cleveland partners.

Greg Thomas, Cleveland planning director, said UT has provided the city with valuable assistance.

“Cities, especially smaller ones, often lack resources to advance from bare ideas to a cohesive future vision to a set of actionable projects that can capture the public imagination and change the community’s future in positive ways,” he said. “SCI fills an important gap, applying intellectual capital and other resources that move the process toward project plans that can be thought about, measured, assessed, and debated.”

Here’s a look at a few of this year’s SCI projects:

Research and branding

Associate Professor Deb Shmerler’s senior graphic design class researched and prepared visual ideas for a branding campaign to reflect the unique identity and character of the community.

Through interviews, discussions, and an online survey, Shmerler’s students learned that Cleveland residents want to retain their community’s history and balance its southern charm while embracing their Fortune 500 industry. Cleveland residents are also determined to counter urban sprawl with small-town ingenuity, capitalize on the beauty of the surrounding area, and promote a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

Whirlpool site redevelopment

Students from Professor Brad Collett’s graduate Landscape Architecture Studio II class came up with ideas for redeveloping the old Whirlpool site and surrounding area. Their proposals included developing an arts district, creating a community garden and culinary school, and building a mixed-use manufacturing site.

SCI -- tricia stuth
Tricia Stuth, associate professor of architecture, meets with Cleveland officials about the Woolen Mill Redevelopment plans, one of the Smart Communities Initiative projects. Stuth’s students have been coming up with design concepts that would transform the vacant mill buildings into a vibrant community center, which could include a community arts center with studio space for local artists to make and sell their work.

“The community of Cleveland was very enthusiastic about our work, which inspired us to deliver a good and meaningful product,” student Jessica Taylor said. “The forward-thinking mentality of the Cleveland organizations and government entities created the potential to make our projects a reality, which is rewarding.”

Stormwater infrastructure mapping

Geology Professor Mike McKinney’s students gathered data on the existing stormwater infrastructure and conditions to help the city more effectively manage its stormwater and water quality efforts. The students used iPads and GIS software to inspect and map culverts, drains, and pipes, and to input topographic data.

The data will provide evidence of stormwater issues as Cleveland officials try to acquire funds to do needed work.

Inman Street improvements

Jenny Retherford, civil engineering lecturer, guided her students through the creation of several design plans to improve Inman Street, the main avenue of Cleveland’s downtown.

SCI road crew (2)
Civil and environmental engineering students help city engineer Brian Beck, who is holding the equipment, set up to survey Inman Street West in Cleveland, Tennessee, as part of this year’s Smart Communities Initiative. Students, from left to right, are Cody Replogle, John McAlister and Jeremy Murphy; they all graduated in December 2014.

Students proposed a “road diet” that consisted of a lane reduction and sidewalk expansion, with a bridge designed to take larger vehicles off the street, improve the traffic flow, and enhance the pedestrian experience. Some of the goals were to provide safer routes between an elementary school and nearby community center and to suggest placement of bus shelters and more green spaces.

The group partnered with Professor Brad Collett’s Environmental Design Lab students to develop a landscape master plan capturing the proposed improvements and addressing key drainage concerns along Inman Street.

Seasonal ice skating rink

Ben Compton’s Economics 471 students conducted a cost-benefit analysis around a seasonal ice skating rink for downtown Cleveland. The analysis focused on whether the idea would draw consumers in during the winter months and at other times.

After accounting for the actual cost of the rink and running such an event for a large community, the class determined the project wouldn’t be advisable.

Despite their recommendation that the community not move forward with the project, students still learned how to perform a feasibility analysis, network with city officials and conduct a survey to gauge the level of community support.

Compton said the project “added a much needed element of tackling real projects that they will need to be able to do upon graduation.”

Next year

UT recently announced that the Southeast Tennessee Development District will be its new SCI partner for the 2015–16 academic year. SCI will be a key component of Experience Learning—UT’s new Quality Enhancement Plan, part of its reaccreditation process for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,