published Monday, April 30th, 2012

Cook: So is Chattanooga a city that’s hip?

Happy 20th birthday to the Tennessee Aquarium. Without you, our city would not be what it is today. If you were a person, we’d paint your portrait and ask you to run for office.

“Our shift as a city really began with the aquarium in ’92,” said Peggy Townsend, director of Chattanooga’s Public Art program. “There was a collective shift in our thinking about the possibilities of what our city could be.”

This shift is worth 1,000 straight nights of Riverbend fireworks, and anyone who lived in Chattanooga in the B.A. (Before Aquarium) days knows what she’s talking about.

We ought to thank a lot of people a lot of times.

This identity shift as a people and city is perhaps best symbolized in three ways: the Kayak, the Coffeeshop and the Studio.

The Kayak represents all the people who have moved here to be closer to our area’s mountains, rocks and rivers. Asking more than 26,000 people in 2009 why they liked Chattanooga, CreateHere’s STAND researchers found one top answer: the natural environment.

The Coffeeshop symbolizes creative thinking and intelligent labor. Between 2001 and 2009, the two fastest-growing job markets, according to the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, were computer and mathematical operations and the combined job market of arts, design, entertainment, sports and media.

The first sector grew by 121 percent, the second by 60 percent. Both are linked in creative intelligence and laptop-based labor. Our Gig City and tech-entrepreneurialism bolster this.

And the Studio represents the artist.

“Our city has become a mecca for artists,” said local sculptor John McLeod. “People are moving here from all over the place.”

Now consider the year 2032. What will the next 20 years contain?

What is shifting … now?

Let’s ask this question. Imagine the most visionary college student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Or the smartest Hamilton County high school student. An expert in her field, a genius in his.

Would they stay here to live and work? Can Chattanooga — with its culture, people and communities — keep them here?

There is one thing we as a city don’t want to export: good, creative, forward-thinking people. The last 20 years, we’ve figured out how to be a tourist destination. The three Rs — Riverfront, Riverbend and Recreation — draw untold numbers of people to our city each year.

The next 20 years need to be about building our city as a livable, vibrant place. A city to move to, not visit on a weekend.

What do good and vibrant cities contain? Hipness.

I think it’s time we ask: Is Chattanooga hip?

By hip, I don’t mean fashion (just ask my wife). I mean an attitude, philosophy, way-of-being.

Hip is the opposite of close-minded. It opposes racism. It runs from status quo. Hip looks for conversation about differences, and applauds new ideas, imagination and political engagement. It’s kind of like jaywalking in order to help someone across the street.

We’re not Boulder, Colo., or Austin, Texas, or Portland, Ore., and don’t want to be. But it is time we swept the rust of some creaky hinges, and allowed the 21st century into some of the board rooms, council meetings and churches, particularly the ones that don’t allow women to be pastors and preachers or schools that won’t allow Gay-Straight Alliances.

You can name your own example here.

You can be hip and conservative. Hip and a church-goer. Hip and go to bed by 11 p.m. It’s not about nose rings, but rather a willingness to move past the hierarchy and unsustainability of the 20th century.

(Maybe it’s time we became a college town.)

Hip people need to run for office. We need a massive push for creative, forward-thinking people in the political space, making political decisions. We need the coolest, most visionary people in town running for school board, mayor and town councils.

The next aquarium for our city won’t be a building, but a diverse set of ideas, kept alive and turned into policy and reality by creative and engaged minds and artistic hearts.

David Cook can be reached at davidcook@hushmail.com.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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Rtazmann said...

NOT HARDLY,,,WHEN YOU LOOK HALF-AS GOOD AS ORLANDO DOES,, YOU WILL BE HIP..WE NEED THE LEGISLATURE BEHIND THESE NEW VENUES AND NOT IN FRONT TAXING THEMSELVES OUT OF THE TOURIST MARKET,,,THIS STATE CAN BE A STOP TO DISNEY,AND UNTIL SOMEONE WAKES UP IT WILL NOT HAPPEN. IT'S NICE TO LOOK OUT FOR TN.. BUT DON'T PUT THE SCREWS TO THE PEOPLE THAT HAS TO LIVE HERE..UP TO NOW THIS STATE HAS BEEN TAXED TO DEATH WITHOUT THOUGHT TO THE PEOPLE THAT LIVE HERE..TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION..IT'S IN THE CONSTITUTION..

April 30, 2012 at 3:38 p.m.
Stewwie said...

[Hip is the opposite of close-minded.]

Typical liberal. People are classified as close-minded when they don't see things the way that you see them.

[...but rather a willingness to move past the hierarchy and unsustainability of the 20th century.]

Since the 20th Century was such a failure! Besides, who are you to determine what the 21st Century should look and feel like? Maybe some things are just fine the way they are.

[Hip people need to run for office.]

Then why don't you run, Mr. Cook? Time to put up or shut up.

May 1, 2012 at 9:34 a.m.

Lame article. Waaaay back when, water, food and shelter attracted people. Now it is money that attracts people. We need the city to find ways to attract more businesses. Noone cares if a city is hip or not. People want a city to be clean, safe and prosperous. We have tourism now which attracts tourists, which is tempermental/seasonal income. We need permanent, sustained, productive growth. Art and fun things to do boost the economy a little but real growth and prosperity come from industry and commerce. Put the toys away and get serious.

May 1, 2012 at 2:48 p.m.
sarahbrogdon said...

I agree with David. We need progressive people in local government representing the interests of the folks that are moving here in droves-as well as those of us that have grown up here and made the conscious decision to stay and participate in Chattanooga's growth. We are on the cusp of big social shifts and cultural change, and I think it's possible for Chattanooga to become more sustainable without losing the rich history that makes this city what it is. We can achieve a well-rounded and better version of our current city, one that embraces environmental, economic and social sustainability. Good planning and vibrant energy have gotten us so far; it would be great to see the positive momentum we've gathered continue to push this city forward.

May 4, 2012 at 4:44 p.m.
timbo said...

David Cook writes the most idiotic columns anywhere. What a dumb question...are we "hip?" Chattanooga reminds me of a movies set. What you see seem ok, but behind it is being held up by bailing wire and 2X4's.

Good planning? First of all downtown is a tax flop. This was chronicled in a couple of TFP articles a few years ago. They basically said that there is not enough tax revenue coming from the downtown to pay the debt service on the bonds. Around 11 million dollars comes out of the general fund to make up the shortfall..For the people who don't go downtown or care about it one bit that is sort of unfair, don't you think? Is that hip?

Another problem was the huge VW boondoggle. An all time record of tax incentives and "free stuff" from the local government of almost a billion dollars. For what? They hired from outside the county, and we gave away all of our manufacturing land. Reading the "Memorandum of Agreement" between the state, county, and city was like reading a kid's fairy tale. The only thing missing was a laugh track of Germans snickering about what a bunch of backwards rubes we are for making this stupid deal. Is that hip?

Watching and listening to some of you psuedo-intellectuals reminds me of watching an episode of the Beverly Hillbillies. I'll bet that Jethro thought he was hip too.

The answer to your question is ....no, we aren't hip..whatever that means.

May 8, 2012 at 5:05 p.m.
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