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Everlena Holmes, a Gellwood Block Leaders coordinator speaks during a meeting Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, at the Eastgate Senior Center in Chattanooga, Tenn. Mayor Andy Berke said Tuesday that he will ask the City Council to freeze property taxes for low- and moderate-income seniors to limit the impact of overall property tax increase.

We've been called the Boulder of the East.

This distinction didn't just fall from the sky. To create ourselves as similar to the outdoor North Star of Boulder, Colo., city planners combined big thinking with brave investment. It was long-term place-making by intention and design.

Today, climbers, bikers, runners and paddlers are drawn here in record numbers. Call it — forgive me if this is flippant — our Granola Migration.

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David Cook

Why can't we do the same with over-55 Americans?

Why can't we become a city defined by healthy aging?

Why can't we become a city where the aging travel here for the good life?

Call it a Golden Migration.

We can be the Sun City of the South.

"Sun City, Chattanooga," said Dr. Everlena Holmes.

Created in 1960 just outside Phoenix lies an American gem: Sun City, Arizona, a planned community specifically for 55+ Americans.

Theaters. Sidewalks. Golf carts and courses. Varied and beautiful living choices. Amenities, fitness, fellowship.

"It was wonderful," said Holmes, a longtime university dean originally from Tuskegee, Ala. who once lived in Arizona. "They foster relaxed living, they encourage healthy lifestyles and, more importantly, they provide a true sense of community."

Holmes, 84, moved to Chattanooga a decade ago and, shortly after, was named a Black Pioneer Woman of Excellence by the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Inc. A woman of immense intellect and charm, Holmes is an academic and activist, and knows how to ask powerful questions.

Like this:

"These communities are located throughout the United States," she said. "Why not in Chattanooga?"

Hamilton County is not getting any younger; by 2030, more than one-fifth of all county residents will be 65 or older, according to the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability's recent 2018 report.

Today, there are nearly 64,000 county adults 65 or older.

By 2030?

More than 81,000.

So why not begin to build communities around the golden years?

Holmes — "age is a blessing from God," she likes to say — has just the idea.

"Glenwood," she said.

The historic neighborhood runs through the heart of Chattanooga's medical corridor — three hospitals within minutes — and is primarily populated with aging Chattanoogans.

Holmes and other residents have been working with the Regional Planning Agency to envision the future of Area 3, which includes Glenwood and East Chattanooga.

Part of that vision is Sun City in East Chattanooga.

"This would be a positive effect on the morale of those living in the now-distressed neighborhoods of Area 3. There would be job opportunities. Residents could walk to work or use alternative vehicles, like electric scooters, bikes," she said. "Residents could afford to own their own homes — building wealth not only in their family, but within the neighborhood. Crime would go down, pride would be restored and a sense of progress will be felt by those who live in Area 3."

I love this idea for two big reasons.

First, it's wholesome, dignified and loving.

Good both for economics and communities, it's also a vision that could save lives.

"Our seniors are very lonely," Holmes said. "A lot of seniors are dying from loneliness."

Second, this is an idea from the ground, and there's a growing sense in this city that ground-level ideas often don't get very far.

This is my way of helping it spread and germinate.

Let's say Holmes were a developer. Or a former politician. Or white. Or male.

Would those things affect how far her idea travels?

Does her idea face an uphill battle because she's not a well-connected developer, politician or the like?

Hopefully not.

But while all ideas may be created equally, not all are heard equally.

If we can transform other neighborhoods in town — your list goes here — then why can't Holmes's Sun City idea also find traction?

I'm not confusing the immense difficulty of planning and revitalization with a click-your-heels-Dorothy-and-it's-done simplicity.

But if we have received attention from across the globe for rebuilding our city for the young and hip, then can't we also do this for seniors?

"I envisioned Sun City, Chattanooga, shortly after moving here," Holmes said. "However, it was later that I realized that Chattanooga was truly an ideal city for the aging population."

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.

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