“Welcome to Citiwire.net! When our Citistates Group holds one of its yearly meetings — we call them Convergences of our Associates — we learn a lot from each other. And sometimes even more from the cities we visit. This year it was Chattanooga, one of America’s fabled recovery communities — now facing a new generation of problems and opportunities. My column, and the article by Roberta Gratz, report on what we saw (and imagine for the future). P.S. Note the interesting chain of comments on my column of last week on world population and food trends.” — Neal Peirce
Fast Net, Slow Food: Chattanooga’s New Formula
By Neal Peirce
For Release Sunday, July 10, 2011
© 2011 Washington Post Writers Group
CHATTANOOGA — A handsomely made, people-friendly Riverwalk runs along the Tennessee River, tied to the old Walnut Street Bridge that’s been painted a deep happy blue and is now reserved for walkers and bikers. The Tennessee Aquarium features freshwater fish. Electric, fare-free buses run up and down Broad Street. There’s lots of art, outdoor sculpture included.
From a smoke-clogged industrial disaster a generation ago, Chattanooga has come a stunning distance, spurred on by organized citizen action and generous local foundations. It recently garnered national attention by attracting Volkswagen’s new $1 billion LEED-aggressive assembly plant.
But all’s not well. The downtown has an empty feel — in fact 1 million square feet of vacant office space. Relations remain strained between the city and the rural Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama counties that surround it. Education levels still lag seriously.
So what’s next? It’s a mix of bytes and bites, or put another way, fast gigabytes and slow food. That’s the fascinating mix for this decade that Chattanooga political and business leaders had to tell a meeting of the Citistates Group (which I chair), meeting here late last month.
Healing the Urban Heart: Chattanooga’s Next Great Challenge
By Roberta Brandes Gratz
For Release Thursday, July 7, 2011
In 1969, Walter Cronkite, in one of his nightly newscasts, called Chattanooga “the dirtiest city in America.” The pollution was so thick that drivers needed headlights to see through the fog, men took two white shirts to work for morning and afternoon, and respiratory deaths were 20 percent higher than national average. Today, Chattanooga is one of the cleanest cities; its success on a number of fronts has raised concern of being too successful.
The city is indeed blessed with the spectacular Tennessee River snaking through it, a setting surrounded by small mountains and woodlands filled with recreational attractions. The 1970 Clean Air Act forced the issue of pollution and by 1972 clean air standards were met. In the meantime, the city was working on big plans for change.
“We were the smart ones,” Mayor Ron Littlefield, a professional planner, told a meeting with the Citistates Group last week. “The city produced a detailed plan, colorful documents and maps, gathered lots of figures and then delivered them to the people. We figured they would recognize our genius and run with it.”