Foster characteristics and outcomes that create an attractive, safe, creative, welcoming community with a strong sense of being uniquely Oak Ridge!

descriptive understanding

The remarkable identity of Oak Ridge is expressed in its history as a “Secret City” hidden away in the hills of East Tennessee that, fed by TVA power, helped to end World War II and usher in the Nuclear Age, and then became a leading international research center, bastion for diversity, and a pleasantly quirky and eclectic community.  Aspects of this identity are not apparent in our physical city, however.

Focusing on the characteristics of livability and community vibrancy is important for creating a distinctive, attractive community.  Besides improving housing choices, a key to achieving new residential growth is to provide more amenities in the fabric of the city, such as better shopping, dining, gathering spaces and interests for all ages.  This growth will enable improvements to public amenities and community facilities that residents and newcomers find attractive, such as the new Senior Center and Pre-School currently under construction.

Community involvement in Oak Ridge is noteworthy, and is foundational to a sense of community vibrancy.  It is apparent in local news, and in the amount of charitable efforts to  support local people, schools, and organizations.  Partnerships between community organizations has often resulted in strengthened community goals with diverse perspectives.

In addition, many citizen volunteers serve on the seventeen City Boards and Commissions that have been formed by City Council, including several advisory boards that are not always found in other jurisdictions: Environmental Quality, Recreation and Parks, Traffic Safety, Senior Advisory, and Youth Advisory Boards.

Even though Oak Ridge is in many ways unique, its livability also relates to the health and character of Anderson and Roane counties, and the greater region.  Institutions and organizations located within our community have regional effects as well, such as the Methodist Medical Center and health system, Roane State Community College, East Tennessee Economic Council, and many others.


The following list of ideas and recommended actions, largely from community input, are intended to help improve the quality of appearance, quality of experience, and quality of life in Oak Ridge.

Quality Appearance

  • Work towards creating a vibrant city center, beginning with a transformation of Wilson Street into an urban streetscape with safe walking paths, sidewalk furniture, pedestrian lighting, and landscaping. In this way, investment in public infrastructure with clear expectations can be a strong catalyst for private investment and development nearby.
  • Guide private development as well as community-driven area plans towards effective placemaking and urban design. Develop flexible but clear design guidelines to supplement the regulatory standards.
  • Develop a program that promotes continued beautification and litter control efforts.
  • Create a public art program.
  • Preserve local culture and history. Protect historic structures and places, including sites on DOE property: Freels Bend Cabin, New Bethel Baptist Church, George Jones Memorial Baptist Church, Checking Stations.  Re-examine the 1991 survey of legacy housing, which found many houses able to be classified as contributing to the historic resource.
  • Improve the city’s physical definition – gateways, edges, vistas.
  • Communicate periodically back to the community the results and status of code enforcement issues related to property maintenance and blight elimination. This may take the form of updating or rebranding the Not in Our City program (2011).

Quality Experience

  • Support unique and local businesses to provide more choices in restaurants, entertainment, and shopping. Concentrating these businesses together, especially connected by sidewalks or greenways to surrounding neighborhoods, will create destinations for people to gather and meet with each other.
  • Encourage local tourism initiatives to be creative in the ways they support the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Coordinate these efforts with the marketing and missions of the MPNHP, Explore Oak Ridge, and the various participating organizations.
  • Enhance local festivals and invite opportunities for other special events that increase the region’s awareness of Oak Ridge and enrich the enjoyment of our cultural resources.
  • Build an educated and engaged citizenry that will interact or participate in City Boards and Commissions. Offer Civic Engagement 101 classes, speaker or video documentary series, quarterly public forums, or similar programs.  Provide citizens with better communication of results and decision-making by City Council and Board or Commission meetings.  Encourage learning and sharing successes with other communities.
  • Support the goals of the Oak Ridge Public Library to become a vibrant, community-centered library by offering cultural and innovative programming, community gathering spaces, activities for all ages, preservation of Oak Ridge history, and access to resources needed to live, learn, govern, work, and play in Oak Ridge.

Quality of Life

  • Support the goals of the Oak Ridge School District, to provide safety for all students and teachers, improve school facilities and infrastructure, be prepared for population growth, and continue to provide viable paths to careers for our students based on regional needs.
  • Become known as a green community by encouraging development to be energy and resource efficient, therefore reducing adverse impacts to the environment and public health
  • Preserve, protect, and plant new or replacement trees as development occurs. Cultivate the urban forest and a balanced ecosystem that can continue to support our natural resources.
  • Work towards making Oak Ridge a more inclusive and age-friendly community. Particular attention is needed to address the safety of individuals that are challenged by mobility (cannot drive, require a wheelchair, blind, etc.), by incorporating design accommodations in streets and private development that provide access to necessary services, civic functions, and allow shared enjoyment of public spaces.
  • Support community organizations working together to meet basic health and housing needs of vulnerable populations.
  • Identify appropriate greenbelts, floodplain, or other unbuildable areas for community-based food production – gardens, small poultry or livestock foraging, and perennial berry and nut orchards, for example – that can provide healthy food and education to schools and neighbors while helping to maintain these valuable natural areas.
For example, it was not that many years ago that the city was still not sure if rowing was a good thing.  The rowing association had to work really hard to raise money and keep things going and gain community support.  There were fund-raising regattas amongst the various employers- getting up their crews and practicing with the rowing club people.  There were associated events to go with the regattas, like strawberries and champagne for people who would pay a premium to sit at tables under the big tent.  People were either on a crew, worked for a company that sponsored a crew, came down to watch their friends row, or were somehow engaged.
As members of the community we have to understand that we can also take action –  we have to roll up our sleeves and sometimes put in some sweat equity, generate some ideas and potential implementation strategy to meet a goal.
Jane Shelton, Oak Ridge Planning Commissioner
Now in it’s 39th year of service, the Oak Ridge Rowing Association is home to the Atomic Juniors and Masters Rowing Teams, offers a wide array of Learn-To-Row classes, and is host to several Championship Rowing Regattas and Spring Training Camps.
— From


Surveys of federal employees, young professionals who grew up in Oak Ridge, and students at Oak Ridge High School sound a common theme: If you want me to live here, stay here, or come back here, bring in more high quality, fun things to do.  Interviews and surveys yield requests for
indoor entertainment, special events, more bike/hike/paddle opportunities, more sidewalks, unique coffee houses, craft beer, sidewalk cafes at local non-chain restaurants, and interesting locally-owned shops.  These uses can be encouraged in several pocket areas of the city.

Within the city center, the Wilson Street corridor between Tulane and Rutgers currently provides an excellent opportunity for new compact, mixed-use development that should include urban housing located above or next to small shops, restaurants, and other businesses, all accessible to each other by foot and connected to public open space by sidewalks or trails.  Nearby, the new Secret City Radio Show is produced live, once a month at the American Museum of Science and Energy by Knoxville radio station WDVX 89.9 FM, and is an example of unique community vibrancy that will help define our sense of place.