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Believe in Bristol

Peyton Boyd, AIA
McKinney-Boyd Architects, Abingdon, Virginia

Since early in 2000 I have been involved with Believe in Bristol, an umbrella organization formed to bring together representatives of key revitalization projects being planned for my hometown, the “twin city” of Bristol, Tennessee, and Bristol, Virginia. Projects in various stages of planning and execution include an urban creek walk, a new public library, restoration of the train station, and construction of a farmers market. A sense of optimism and excitement at the possibility of reclaiming downtown as the true heart of the city exists among the community activists involved in the various projects.

As a founding member of Believe in Bristol, I have tried to make “quality of life” issues part of every conversation about the future of Bristol. During strategic planning sessions I lobbied successfully for the inclusion of “design excellence” and “livable community” planks in the organization’s Statement of Core Values.

To enhance awareness of design excellence and to advocate its importance in the ongoing discussion of a preferred future for the community, I proposed the establishment of a design symposium to be held in downtown Bristol. Recognizing that a great deal of public and private development could result from the creek walk and other downtown projects in the coming decades, I wanted to find a way to promote the very best architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning for Bristol. Working with a small group of hard-working volunteers I chaired the Bristol Design Symposium in 2001 and 2002.

We obtained major grants from the Virginia Foundation for Architecture to underwrite both symposia. The local chapter of Associated General Contractors funded distribution of the AIA’s “Communities by Design” booklet to symposium attendees. Other funding came from corporate sponsors (we targeted firms with a vested interest in downtown revitalization) and from a modest registration fee.

Drawing on my relationships with staff members at the AIA National Component we identified, extended invitations to, and secured commitments from nationally known speakers. For the first symposium, a general theme of downtown revitalization was adopted. The keynote speaker was John O. Norquist, at that time mayor of Milwaukee and a former public member of the board of the AIA. In 2004, Norquist became President and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism, where he will continue to have a prominent place in national discussions of urban design and educational issues.

In 2002, we chose historic preservation as the symposium focus, a timely topic because of the renewal of public interest in the historic architectural fabric of downtown Bristol. We engaged William Murtagh to deliver the keynote address. Dr. Murtagh was the first Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, and is held in well-deserved high regard in the preservation movement.

Because it is difficult to develop a format with equal appeal to all members of a potential audience, we have experimented with how the program is presented. In 2002, for example, we opened with an evening keynote address and reception. The next day we had individual speakers and a panel discussion in the morning and a walking tour of downtown after lunch. The 2004 symposium dealt with regional growth issues, and the dynamic between big box suburban development and downtown viability.

I worked with our local AIA components to certify the symposia for AIA learning units—a good way to increase attendance by members. I am also in discussions with the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Virginia, about ways to expand the appeal of the symposium to a broader audience.


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