Cook: Our city deserves a real entrance

Cook: Our city deserves a real entrance

June 4th, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

St. Louis? The Arch.

San Fran? Golden Gate Bridge.

Pittsburgh? The dramatic view of downtown coming out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

Chattanooga? Just beneath the adult bookstore billboard, the US Pipe and Wheland Foundry grounds. With its asphalt bleakness and Mad Max ambiance, it's about as inviting as the River Styx.

Our city deserves a real entrance, not something suited for a place you'd like to speed right through. Like the underworld. Or Atlanta.

But watch what happens if ...

This site is purchased by the city and turned into a living laboratory on green urban design. The city of the future begins here.

On site, build homes, factories, businesses, gardens. Zero waste. Zero carbon. Self-sustaining and headline making. Leaders travel all over the world to tour. People move to Chattanooga, just because.

We have an entrance to our city that is beautiful, innovative and unique, a 21st century design constructed on the grounds of 20th-century manufacturing.

And Mayor Ron Littlefield -- who has enough time in his term to start such an initiative -- would leave a legacy far greater than he could imagine.

It all starts with the refunding of the Office of Sustainability.

By re-funding the Office of Sustainability, the city would usher our city into its next 20-year renaissance, creating a legacy that would be equal to -- if not greater than -- the impact of the aquarium.

The 20th century is over. No intelligent models of the future of cities include the idea, Do-It-Like-1985. If we are not thinking toward 2025, we're already behind.

Every major city in Tennessee has an Office of Sustainability. The Knoxville mayor budgeted $146,000 for its office, a nearly 50 percent increase from our mayor's budget ($100,000 for our office, which had been using a federal grant, now nearly gone).

Our new logo: Nearly as Green as Knoxville!

Refunding the office can happen in one of three ways. First, create a Green Project Fund, which captures the millions in saved energy dollars and reserves them to finance the office and related projects.

Second, ask the always-appropriate question: What would Jack Lupton do? Gather the most generous, forward-thinking, business-minded philanthropists in the area and create the Tennessee Aquarium-like effort to make Chattanooga the greenest city south of Chicago.

Three, reorder priorities.

The proposed budget includes $143,613 for "cleaning supplies." There's more than $1.6 million for "gasoline." Three times as much for "fleet-leased vehicles." More than $380,000 for "cell phone service."

Yet only $100,000 for sustainability?

The office would be the equivalent of the aquarium, the taproot from which so many other good things grew. The sum is greater than the parts, and in unimagined ways, our city took off after the aquarium opened.

The office would do the same. Imagine if we really devoted time and energy to exploring the use of railways and the river as forms of transportation -- commuting by ferries or rails.

Imagine if we really took the time and energy to explore ways of conserving energy and money. With a part-time staff, the office claims an estimated $30 million to $50 million savings in energy costs in the next 15 years in energy costs.

Imagine an urban forest. Local farmers treated with the same focus as the Gang Task Force. Green roofs, micro-renewable energy plants, a 50 percent reduction in stormwater drainage.

Each day, the office staff followed one golden rule, which they called the Triple Bottom Line.

"With every decision, we will raise and sustain the quality of life for current and future generations by improving the economy, the environment and the community."

Cutting the office violates all three.

Restoring it creates an American vision, mayoral legacy and vibrant city that will last for decades.

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