The alchemy that’s been underway in Chattanooga for 30-plus years can look deceptively simple. “Hold a meeting, make a plan, invest, shake well, observe change.” I know from a few years as Chattanooga’s publicist that even good writers with only a few hours to observe and 1,500 words to play with can only see a limited view.
I’m calling this blog CircleChattanooga instead of Gig-Something because the ultimate scope of my inquiry is Chattanooga’s entire reinvention-in-progress. I’m starting with what’s most active right now: the cultivation of a startup ecosystem around Chattanooga’s gigabit Internet. I know that where I draw my circle—or where I build my observation tower a la Milan Kundera—will shape what I see. But now is really the only place to start, because all of this historic transformation inevitably leads to—and through—this point in time. And I can redraw the circle when I need to.
Starting with the Gig Tank 2014 summer startup incubator, I will spiral out to the wider tech ecosystem and (selectively) the rest of the current landscape, then wider to the origins and development of Chattanooga’s renaissance. Some stories will be here, some in my technology column for The Pulse.
Alchemy is a good metaphor here, because its nature is debatable. Precursor to the science of chemistry or a royal road to personal transformation? A chemist mixes ingredients and stirs up a reaction, but no one is quite sure what an alchemist is up to. The ingredients of a vital and livable city are well known: people, housing, companies, artists, open space, transit, to name a few. But how and why they come about and whether they spark into flame or sputter out is not always as clear. Ditto, the ingredients of a startup: people, ideas, business plan, capital, execution, iteration. And now it also seems the necessities for attracting talent include an interesting downtown with good housing options and amenities like outdoor activities and an arts scene.
So is this about creating companies or re-creating a city? There’s something both planned and creatively, chaotically raw in Chattanooga’s transformation. Planning-buttons to push and development-levers to pull, alongside the squishier business of making a place for people.
Another touch point for me is natural history, in two senses: as in the observational predecessor to the mature experimental science of biology, and as in the way a tale (about a place or a species) can be teased out of dry facts. I plan to interview a lot of people, gather facts and look for patterns, but stop short of theorizing or formulating a final answer to my primary question: “How does this work, this process of reinventing this place?” I am interested in story more than theory, in how more than why, and in observing events more than in crafting systems of knowledge.
I’m a professional writer, editor and PR guy. I’ve been a student of Chattanooga since I started reading about its urban design, community visioning and sustainable development in the early 90s. My fascination with the city inspired my first freelance writing and led to me working as the city’s chief publicist, running the Chattanooga News Bureau for the Chamber of Commerce in the late 90s. In 1995, I led the creation of Chatttanooga’s first civic web presence, Sustainable Development Online, before I owned a modem. I’ve been writing about Chattanooga ever since, most recently covering arts and technology for The Pulse. I work as an editor now and split my time between Chattanooga and Brooklyn.