When I was in Chattanooga for the Ragnar, I had the opportunity to speak with a guy named Randy Whorton, who is the director of a local non-profit called Wild Trails that is dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyles … in their case through outdoor recreation. We talked about a lot of things, but one of the things that came up was how well the city of Chattanooga has developed itself to promote those kinds of ideals. There are parks and pedestrian trails and developments that encourage walking. I was of course there for a road running event, but the area is a draw for rowing regattas, trail running, and rock climbing, among many other activities. Outside Magazine named Chattanooga the best outdoor town to live in, and there is a thriving community of outdoor enthusiasts and athletes that improves the overall quality of life for the whole town … for everybody.
(And the trail running is apparently pretty legendary – checkout the Rock / Creek Trail Series videos on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/rockcreeker) and then watch this one on the StumpJump … and tell me you don’t want to hit the door.)
The City of Chattanooga paid over $120 million dollars to revitalize its downtown like this, but if you go there today it is a vibrant place, full of energy and absolutely shouting down anybody that might argue that money wasn’t worth it.
The question that struck me was … why wouldn’t all cities want to do this?
I lived in North Little Rock, Arkansas, during the time when the Little Rock River Market was revitalized, including the addition of the Clinton Presidential Library, a twice weekly (and fantastic) farmer’s market, the River Walk, and the Big Dam Bridge over the Arkansas River. The video below is basically a big commercial for North Little Rock … but doesn’t this demonstrate that all of these things make the city more livable? And improve everybody’s quality of life?
I was reminded of all of this recently when I discovered the TED Talk below, regarding Oklahoma City’s remarkable turnaround from one of the most obese cities in the country to one of the fittest. Their mayor had his own epiphany, and launched programs and investments – millions of dollars in investments – to improve the livability for people in Oklahoma City. And it has worked – the city has grown, and thrived, in a time when many cities are not.
These are three examples, but they are only three of many. I have yet to see an example of a city that failed when it made a thoughtful, long-term investment in the livability of its core inner areas, and in providing real infrastructure for outdoor recreation. These things change a culture, and when you can change a culture you can do amazing and wonderful things..
So I ask the question – why wouldn’t every city want to make these kinds of investments? This transcends politics – or should. This is about community, economic development, community health … everything.
What does your city do to invest in itself this way? If nothing – why?