Beyond thinking about specific stadium plans and wastewater treatment and how to improve schools, a city and a county like ours must have broader goals — broader, but not so broad that they become mere platitudes.
We were reminded of this twice last week. First with the Tuesday primary election which sent two county mayor candidates — with just such bigger-picture, bolder thinking about education equity and trade schools — forward to the Aug. 4 election. Second, we saw it with Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly's revamped State of the City address, an equally envelope-pushing idea for "One Chattanooga," not two — a comfortable one and a poor one.
Kelly's event wasn't an address in the sense that he stood behind a lecturn, listed first-year accomplishments and ticked off a handful of future dreams. It was more of a summit with a number of specialists and city residents exploring long-term and systemic solutions for a better future. In the Tivoli Theatre conversations, Kelly sought to clarify and build on his "One Chattanooga" plan, which is more of a guiding framework for decision-making than an itemized list of projects.
One Chattanooga is something Kelly has been talking about and molding into shape since he first began campaigning in May 2020.
"This is not an overtly political document. This is about, sort of, deep and lasting change, rather than sort of a rah-rah political pitch," Kelly told the Times Free Press on Wednesday.
On Thursday he again put the plan's seven priorities onto the community's proverbial table — access to early learning, economic vitality for the Black community, affordable housing, improving infrastructure, making the city a competitive regional economy, improving public health and making government efficient and effective.
Some of the pieces of this he's already put in place during the past year.
He created the Office of Community Health headed by Mary Lambert.
And in March he announced plans for a $100 million affordable housing initiative over five years, which includes $33 million in seed money from the city. The project will involve public-private partnerships with nonprofit organizations, banks and other groups to expand the offerings of affordable housing.
We're not talking about mere chit-chat. And none of this is just feel-good stuff.
To make the city a competitive regional economy, we have to have a young workforce ready for work. Chattanooga 2.0's past years of pushing for improved school policy was a good start, but we can't wait a generation for better educated high school graduates.
Kelly's director of special projects, Ellis Smith, says Kelly and his administration are excited to begin working with a new county mayor on education projects that largely for decades have been cans kicked down the road.
Republican county mayoral candidate Weston Wamp is thinking along the lines of state-of-the-art trade schools and middle schools, as well as early childhood learning. Democrat Matt Adams is talking about equitable funding and facilities for all the county's schools, no matter their ZIP code.
Kelly's event invited long-term solutions, not fresh paint or Band-Aids.
"There are times when a coat of paint and a Band-Aid are entirely appropriate and important," Kelly told the TFP Wednesday. "But the idea here is rather than constantly running through boxes of Band-Aids — which is, I think, what we got in the habit of doing — let's first really prioritize structural change."
It is refreshing to hear these ideas and plans, along with the brainstorming that goes into them.
All of these leaders note there is a great deal of federal money out there for us to use — money already allocated for the kinds of things we need if we can just be quick enough and careful enough to put together the best plans. Doing so should save us tax dollars, too.
Kudos to these leaders. Now let's get busy helping them — including by letting them know we'll be anxiously awaiting results.