Things That Make You Go Hmmm

I’ve spent the past few weeks writing about Alabama football, travel, and family. Thanks for indulging me. I will reward your patience by getting back on topic. Before I jump into the issue du jour, however, I feel compelled to comment on another piece of local news.

You have no doubt heard about the cyclist who was allegedly harassed and attacked in Marion County. If the allegations prove to be true, that is a disgraceful and evil act, and hopefully justice will be served. As that story evolved over the course of the week from Facebook post, to local news story, to national media event, something else occurred to me. One cyclist got shot in the mouth with pepper spray, but lived to tell his story. This story has run all over the place. At the same time, Chattanoogans are getting shot with bullets and dying. Those stories come and go with little fanfare. That is, as Arsenio Hall once said, a “thing that makes you go hmm”. Moving swiftly on to things I better understand…

In the realms of urbanism, design and planning, things in our humble burg seem to be popping off. Below is a list of plans, projects, and initiatives currently underway in downtown and the surrounding urban neighborhoods. These are all big, district-scaled works, there are plenty of other things going on out there, so if I forgot to list one that you feel is important, please accept my apologies for the oversight. In the meantime, witness:

Center City
With the help of a handsome and talented consultant team, the River City Company has just completed The Center City Plan. A product of months of stakeholder meetings and a week-long charrette, the plan makes specific recommendations for the provision of new housing, the re-imagining of Miller Park and Patten Parkway, sustainable infrastructure projects, and the creation of a more balanced transportation system. Before the plan was completed, the city used our narrative and renderings as the basis for a grant application for the city’s first protected bike lanes on Broad Street. I suspect that in short order we will hear another couple of big announcements- keep yours ears on.

St. Elmo

CNE is about to undertake an even more robust plan for St. Elmo. The goal of the plan is to “bolster its downtown businesses and attractions, attract new housing opportunities and promote a pedestrian and bike friendly atmosphere.” If you want to get involved, the charrette starts at 6:30 on Thursday at the South Chattanooga Recreation Center.

U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry

This potential project, which has been harried by the recession, appears to be back on. You may recall that several years ago a $1 billion plan (that’s billion with a B) was drafted for the development of those 140 acres. It looks like they are now ready to move on the first piece of that project which comprises 2 acres of mixed-use development near Broad Street.

Glass Street

As you well know, an intrepid group of young people have taken on the revitalization of a portion of East Chattanooga. The group has been humming along with projects and events and is now offering a program to fill vacant storefronts with resident artists.

Harriett Tubman

Just down the street from the Glass House crew is the Harriett Tubman site. This vacant, former housing project was in the news this week as the CHA board declined to extend a deadline for private acquisition of the property. The City has indicated that it is interested in acquiring the site and redeveloping it for industrial use. Whatever the use, 35 acres of new development is a substantial project.

M.L. King

Word on the street is that the time has come for the M.L. King district. I suspect that with UTC bursting at the seams, big projects coming online, and some small businesses doing well, the district will become a focus of a push to get it “over the hump”. As we all know, there is tremendous opportunity on the Boulevard, there is space to make an impact, and some small projects are already proving the market.


If you believe what you read in the papers, this will be a big year for the forgotten side of downtown. On one end of the spectrum, a $40 million mixed-use, riverfront development is slated for construction this year. On the other end, time might be up for College Hill Courts. This, of course, has very real human implications in addition to the obvious economic ones.

Our friends at UNUM have indicated that they are considering the future of their property. Who knows what that investigation will produce, but whatever it is will be important. Rest assured that the development of six contiguous vacant city blocks nestled between the riverfront and the city center will have a massive impact on the city.

What then, does all of this activity portend? I believe that each of those plans and projects are worthy endeavors. Considered on a project-by-project basis, they all seem feasible. The reality, however, is that they do not exist in a vacuum. The players in each of those projects are playing in the same small sandbox, and their fortunes will definitely affect one another. They will be competing with each other (and other neighborhoods in the city) for homeowners, renters, restaurants, employers and employees. The community has a finite pool of resources. Those resources include quantifiable things such as government funds, non-profit funds, new homebuyers, business start-ups, and consumers. We also have a finite pool of the less tangible resources such as focus, energy, buzz, and effort. All of this activity is very exciting, but it begs the question of whether or not we have the capacity to divide our finite resources by eight (plus everything else going on in town) and still make the type of impact that is required to spark revitalization in each of those places. That is a serious question that we will have to grapple with, but I suppose having too much going on is a good problem-  it certainly beats the alternative.

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