I dunno.

I’m all smiles for the next year (and that makes three of the past four). When ‘Bama is on top of the football world, the rest of life just seems to work better. Alas, nothing lasts forever, so I shall enjoy this little run while I can. For the record, please note that my prediction of 49-12 was not so far off of the final score of 42-14. The Golden Domers should hold their heads high, however, they had a very exciting season and a great run- I wouldn’t mind seeing a rematch next year.

I appreciate ya’ll indulging my tongue-in-cheek post last week. Clearly, I was joking- I am incorrect from time to time, and I don’t have all the answers. It follows then that I should write this week about questions instead of answers. Cities are odd things- on one hand, the “rules” that govern them are simple, straightforward and enduing; on the other hand they comprise roiling, complex systems where issues and challenges constantly emerge and morph. Whereas most weeks I use the blog to talk about my opinions, this week, I’ll write about things I haven’t quite figured out.

How will new technology influence our built environment?

The really big in thing in Chattanooga right now is the Gig. We now boast the fastest public internet service in the country and we’re way ahead of the curve on this one. But what does this mean for the form of the city? A brief survey of history shows that technological advances have had massive impacts on the shape and organization of cities. The provision of water and sewer conveyance, the widespread availability of electricity, the car, and in our little corner of the world air conditioning (which made the South a more habitable place) each had direct and dramatic impact on the form of the city. I have little doubt that our new information technologies (including our smart grid) will play a key role in the evolution of our city, but I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around how that might manifest itself.  I suspect the impact will be most keenly felt in the energy realm, with intelligent buildings that produce their own energy and grid that provides hyper-efficient service. Beyond that, I think the public realm will be influenced heavily, I’m not yet sure how though. 

How will the community be convinced that design matters?

This is a tough one. 'Round here, the deck is stacked against design. For some (primarily my conservative brethren) design is a four-letter-word. Some equate design with governmental interference, or tampering with the free market. They don’t care to see that good design doesn’t have to cost more, and that by raising the value of the whole it benefits each individual. Is it possible to think that we believe in private property rights and in the free market, and still not build crap? The flip side of the freedom coin is personal responsibility- we owe it to ourselves to try to build a city that is beautiful, functional and sustainable. Of the things that I don’t understand, this is the one that most perplexing and the item that causes me the most agita.

How will we fill in the blanks?

Earlier this week, a Facebook friend made an observation about density and retail development vis a vis an article on walkability. The fact is that as a whole, our downtown is not particularly dense from a pedestrian standpoint. A number of factors influence walkability and just as important as a path to walk on, is what we walk by. An area is perceived to be more walkable if there are ‘events” and elements along the path that give the cue that there is reason to walk there. Jeff Speck noted that to attract pedestrians (and in my opinion be considered walkable) a place has to “provide a walk that is simultaneously useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting.” Downtown Chattanooga has a number of pockets of walkable places. A problem is distance between pedestrian districts and the lack of density of the interstices between them. Other problems include things we have constructed ourselves- chief among these are highways(US-27, I-24) and introverted institutional Buildings (like TVA).

We have a few very walkable little districts in town – Main Street, The Riverfront, Bluffview, Frazier Avenue. These pockets are, however, separated by deserts and canyons that aren’t particularly comfortable or interesting. Is it realistic to think we can fill in the voids?  The surface lots aren’t going anywhere, the TVA building isn’t going anyway, I-24 is going anywhere, US-27 is going to get worse. For now, this seems a bit hopeless, but as opposed to the other questions in the post, this solution is apparent if the will to implement it is somewhat less clear.

How will we raise the community baseline?

A sad fact facing American cities (and cities around the world for that matter) is the increasing disparity between the have and the have-nots. Over the past few decades Chattanooga has made a remarkable rebound, and our revitalized downtown has increased the quality of life and provided economic opportunities for a massive portion of our population. Unfortunately, this has not translated into a rising of the tide for the whole community. There are still large segments of the community (some in very close proximity to the dynamo that is downtown) that have benefited from our rebound. How can we comprehensively address the quality of life and provide opportunity for those who haven’t heretofore shared in our success? This is probably the toughest question of the post, and if I had the answer I would win a Nobel Prize.

How will anyone outside of the SEC dethrone Alabama?

It’s tough to see how this will happen. We have an excellent CEO, we have several years of top 5 recruiting classes, and we have a tried and tested process. I suspect we will continue to lose the odd SEC game here and there – the season and schedule are just too arduous. The crucible that is that schedule, however, creates teams that are simply stronger than our out of conference foes. As mentioned earlier, these things are cyclical so it won’t last forever- I will enjoy it while I can though.

I could not resist sharing the front page of the South Bend Tribune- this has not been photoshoped in any way, I guess they just wanted to give me a shout out.

"To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women. "
-Conan The Barbarian in response to the question "What is best in life?"

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