"The car century was a mistake. It's time to move on."
So says a recent guest editorial in the Washington Post by J. H. Crawford, the author of "Carfree Cities" and "Carfree Design Manual," and publisher of Carfree.com.
"Cities all across Europe are discouraging automobile use in favor of walking, cycling and public transport," Crawford writes. "This is most clearly illustrated in Oslo, the first European capital to announce that its downtown core will soon be made car-free."
Chattanooga hasn't gone all in and put a ban on cars downtown like Norway's capital. But the zeitgest has seen a shift here, too, toward walkable and bikeable communities.
It's happening downtown. Chattanooga's new, 140-acre Innovation District touts that it's inside a "dense, walkable urban core." Workers in the "innovative economy" want to be in urban places that are "walkable, bikeable, hyper-caffeinated where they can bump into workers and share ideas," said a video on the Innovation District's website titled the "The Metropolitan Revolution: The New Geography of Innovation."
The city has created new dedicated bike lanes on Broad Street and plans to build a network of them, including on Eighth Street, M.L. King Boulevard, Bailey Avenue, Willow Street and Orchard Knob. The bike laws are part of a city initiative to boost bicycle ridership in Chattanooga from about 1 percent today up to 5 or 6 percent level achieved in such cites as Portland, Ore.
People are moving back to the urban core, too. Downtown Chattanooga is experiencing the biggest burst of residential development it's seen in decades. It's expected that new construction and retrofitting downtown will add some 1,740 apartments and condos, 1,322 student beds and 564 hotel rooms.
And a new "downtown" has been created in Chattanooga: Cambridge Square, a mixed-use community just east off Interstate 75 at Exit 11 in Ooltewah, which is a neighborhood inside Chattanooga's city limits. It's a commercial development with a small public square surrounded by eateries, including a wine bar and craft beer tasting room, and retail businesses, including a cigar shop and offices. Residential development will get underway this year, and its residents will be able to walk to the square.
Cambridge Square's developers described the development as "ururban," or the successful merger of urban and suburban environments. "OK, so we made that word up. But that's ultimately what Cambridge Square delivers: a vibrant, family-friendly community that oers all the benets of a downtown atmosphere in the heart of Ooltewah."
"We're going back to the future," says Kim White, president and CEO of River City Co., the nonprofit company whose mission is downtown development. "We're building back what was there. Everyone lived downtown (once). Over the years, so much has been decentralized."
White doesn't doubt that there's enough demand for all the new living spaces, since large employers remain in the city center.
"There's 55,000 workers downtown; 97 percent of them drive from outside in," she says. So only about 3 percent of those who work in downtown Chattanooga also live there. Meanwhile, the percentage is around 10 percent in comparable Southern cities, she said, such as in Charleston, S.C., and Asheville, N.C.