As I walk around downtown these days, I'm seeing more and more signs Chattanooga is becoming like the cities I expected I would move on to when I first arrived here.
Some of it is uplifting -- Movies at the 700 Block -- and some less so -- the increase in panhandlers I run into -- but I suppose you take the good with the not so good.
Regardless, the city has become a place my 21-year-old self wouldn't have turned his nose up at. In 2007, I was reluctant to move here because I wanted a lifestyle I thought I could only find in stereotypically hip, forward-thinking cities like Portland, Ore., or New York.
Part of that was a misconception of what Chattanooga had to offer. At first blush, all I saw was a handful of bridges, some pretty mountains, a stellar aquarium and not much else. Since then, new developments around town and simply looking more closely have drastically changed that perspective.
I wanted to live in a city with a strong craft-beer culture; now, we have places like The Terminal Brewhouse and Chattanooga Brewing Co. pumping out delicious microbrewed suds. Ditto our coffee culture, thanks to the addition of java joints such as The Camphouse, Velo Coffee Roasters and Mean Mug. If the Chattanooga Whiskey Co. starts distilling here, we'll have a liquid-industry trifecta.
In 2007, I would have laughed if someone suggested Chattanooga was destined to be a tech-centric city. Yet now we have the country's fastest Internet infrastructure and an active outreach program to attract companies to take advantage of it. Geeky friends who used to question my staying here now probably envy that decision.
Musicwise, we lacked a critical entry point for middle- and upper-tier touring acts. Then Track 29 came along, and places such as JJ's Bohemia and, to some extent, The Honest Pint, have helped attract killer indie acts as well.
The list goes on: Folk School of Chattanooga's Folk Stomp, burning sculptures at Mainx24, drinking steins of Oktoberfest at Brewhaus, the Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System.
Some might not see these changes as positive, but I hope Chattanooga continues to mold itself into the kind of city I used to think could only be found 2,500 miles away.
And if I were to write up a wish list for future developments to get us there, here are my top three picks.
1. A large outdoor amphitheater: Think Nashville's defunct Starwood Amphitheatre or Aaron's Amphitheatre at Lakewood in Atlanta.
2. A juried film festival: Nashville and Knoxville have two. Even the Tri-Cities has one. Why shouldn't we?
3. A beer-cade: A 21-and-up pizza parlor/bar that also features classic arcade games? I've heard several people bat this idea around, and I think it's a can't-miss.
Even if the status quo is maintained, however, Chattanooga has become more than just the place I ended up. It's become the place I want to be.