As the Summer of Sullivan gives way to the first day of fall, the pace of life is speeding up. In addition to my “real job” and related travels, I’m back to teaching (two sections of) Architecture History at UTC, college football is now in full bloom, and at home my two boys are playing four fall sports. I’m also working on a project with some potential- stay tuned. The speeding train that is life continues to barrel down the track. For these reasons, this week, I will be brief.
Speaking of trains, I’m very excited about the potential inherent in the TIGER grant that the city just received. The initial process and potential project are important for a couple of reasons. First, Chattanooga is forever linked to the railroad. Regardless of what role the railroads play in modern Chattanooga, we are forever linked to the rail in the collective memory of the country (and indeed the world). We have all spoken with visitors who want to know if they can ride the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. How sad for them that there is no regularly scheduled train to take if only for nostalgia’s sake. This process certainly has the potential to provide another level of patina for the city, and to provide a connection to our past.
More importantly, this is an unsurpassed opportunity for reinvesting in our existing urban neighborhoods. The crucial questions are how transit stops are located and how the land around them is developed. This has the potential to be a truly transformative moment for the city. It is a new way to connect employers and employees. It is also a catalyst for the infill of vacant and underutilized property.
So when you read about the TIGER grant, yes it’s about train riding, yes it’s about reclaiming our rail heritage, and yes it carries the baggage of a federal transportation project. It is the underlying potential, however, that is most important.
This potential rail project is not simply about moving people on a train, but it would provide is another choice for getting around town. The promise in this process is not in shunning auto culture in favor of mass transit, but it does represent another didactic example for how to build a healthy city. Indeed this is a transformative economic development opportunity on a grand scale and with it comes the promise of connecting the disadvantaged with opportunity.