Metro Ideas Project announces speakers for upcoming Chattanooga conference

Metro Ideas Project, a local, nonprofit research organization, on Monday announced a slew of speakers for its upcoming conference on the divide between urban and rural America, and the list includes several journalists, a professor, a planning expert and the sitting mayor of Little Rock, Ark.

Joda Thongnopnua, the founder and executive director of Metro Ideas Project who is running as a Democrat for the state House District 30 seat, said he is thrilled about the speakers that have signed on to participate in the Public Assembly Summit on May 11-12. More names will be announced in coming weeks that will diversify the slate of speakers, he said.

If you go

› What: Public Assembly 2018, Changing America: Bridging the Urban-Rural-Suburban divide, a weekend-long conference by the Metro Ideas Project, the Lyndhurst Foundation and the Benwood Foundation

› When: May 11-12

› Where: Chattanooga Whiskey, 890 Riverfront Parkway

› Who: All are welcome to attend. You can purchase tickets online at for $55 until May 1, when the price jumps to $65. Admission includes food and an open bar. Scholarships are available for teachers and students.

“It will be one of the most interesting and wonky weekends we have had in Chattanooga for a long time,” Thongnopnua said.

Three journalists who have been covering issues related to the nation’s urban-rural divide will speak, which organizers hope will draw a national crowd.

Sandhya Dirks and Devin Katayama are reporters for KQED, a San Francisco Bay Area public radio station. Dirks is the co-creator and co-host of “American Suburb,” a podcast about the flip side of gentrification and the transformation of suburbia. Katayama is co-host of “American Suburb” and host of “The Bay,” a KQED daily news podcast.

Robinson Meyer is a staff writer for The Atlantic, where he covers climate change, technology and democracy.

Justin Gest, an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, who often provides analysis for national media outlets, was another speaker announced Monday. Gest studies immigration and the politics of demographic change and is the author of four books including “The White Working Class: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

Gabriel Metcalf, president and CEO of the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, and Mark Stodola, who is both mayor of Little Rock and president of the National League of Cities, will be speaking at the event, which is to be held at the Chattanooga Whiskey riverfront headquarters.

“Chattanooga can be a leader in pushing this conversation forward,” Thongnopnua said. “It is a really good group of folks.”

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