Livable and sustainable societies

Eugene F. Monaco EFMonaco at
Thu Sep 17 15:56:26 EDT 1998

Sorry for the cross posts...

Message text written by INTERNET:bioregional at
>       Hey, if a top down approach works.... Of course 'what works'
on who gets queried about 'it is working?'  Certainly it was and is very
down in Chattanooga. Big money is involved in much of the planning.
Knoxville was actually planning to 'get' the Aquarium which was built in
Chattnooga. Knoxville was unable to get it together. 
        And Chattanooga has taken development angle so amazingly slow,
working over 15 years on generating a consensual backing before anything
tangible came of it (I am not detracting here, I think it is amazing).
are alot of civic minded elites there, I would say. The Fulton family (Coca
Cola Bottler owners), the Krystal Corporation, major insurance financial
sector, a rather large (comparatively speaking) blue collar manufacturing
sector, etc., all in this little big town.'  I can say this. I am
from Chattanooga. Whenever I visit, it's quite surreal seeing free electric
busing downtown, in what was only 30 years ago, one of the worst cases of
urban air pollution. UTNE editors recently picked Chattnooga as #10 (in a
top ten list) as one of the most 'progressive' cities in the United States.

I want to say a few words about Chattanooga.

I just spent 2 days last week at a "SmartGrowth" Conference at the Carter
Center in Atlanta, where the Urban Land Institute and partners put (among
others) some developers on a panel as so-called experts on smartgrowth,
whatever that is; the idea being that these guys understood what it took to
build a coalition of business and government folks to build sustainable
developments.  Ted Turner gave an opening speech where he blasted the whole
idea of SmartGrowth, saying that he doesn't think there's any such thing on
a planet that has nearly 6 billion people, up from 2 billion in 1938 when
he was born.  He said there's less-stupid growth and suggested that the
conference be called the Less-Stupid Growth Conference, which the Atlanta
papers quoted the next day.  He noted that the developers of Hilton Head
Island had ruined it, and he ranted on and on until his time was up saying
that we need to adapt a 1 child per family rule to get the population
stabilized at 2 billion which he claims is sustainable according to some
researchers, the name of whom I missed.

Anyhow, Chattanooga kept coming up as this great example of a dying
downtown that developed a now 10+ yr old plan to revitalize it.  The
cornerstone was the aquarium, which was totally privately funded, but it
included a free bus service within the downtown area to allow pedestrians
to be pedestrians.  The density of the city is not such that folks can walk
around from attraction to attraction, at least not without working up a
good sweat, so the bus was seen as essential.  The electric bus spawned a
cottage bus industry for Chattanooga which was touted as a spinoff success

What we have here is a revitalization of an old industrial downtown using
some innovative ideas, but mostly working on the elements of making area
pedestrian friendly.  Note that Manhattan is pedestrian friendly because it
is densly populated and has good public transit.  Chattanooga and most
other cities do not have resident density downtown (Atlanta has mostly
offices downtown) so the idea of luring folks to the city with attractions
such as the aquarium helps but needs the free shuttle to really work.  The
idea works even better if the downtown attrraction somehow celebrates the
reason the city was founded there in the first place (natural river edge,
etc.).  Knoxville is another story; they don't get it at all there.  (I
lived there for 4 years.)

As nice and quaint as all this sounds, it is anything but sustainable.  Not
one of the buildings is solar oriented.  ALL of the energy systems are
based on fossil  or nuclear fuel (with a noted mention from TVA
hydroelcetric, however the hydroelectric is very environmentally
contraversial at the scale of TVA).  And outside the tiny pocket of the
quaint old downtown, the car is king: suburban sprawl rules in perimeter
Chattanooga, the kind of which is rivaled only by Atlanta and L.A. (and
Houston, Dallas, Chicago, West Knoxville,....).

Anyhow, I came qway from the conference ready to vomit as usual; but
rejoicing that at least there was the beginnings of a dialogue.  A trend in
the right direction, maybe.  But sustainable? No.  Less stupd, probably.

The top-down approach might be the only way to achieve less-stupid growth
in the short term, before it's way too late.  One of the break out sessions
dealt with regionalism; they left off the bio.  But for Atlanta, there's
the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) which has the power to make
opinnions, which the local counties promptly ignore.  For example, the most
progressive idea, which was drowned by the cheers of "we can have our
growth, profits and the environment too", was the idea of taking your 100
acre development which would have 400 houses on it, and putting those 400
houses on 20 or 30 acres in high density, throw in some commercial space,
apartments over the stores on main street, and you have 60 or 70 acres left
for "open space" (the concept of a 7-layer canopy forest just wasn't in the
consciousness).  Anyhow, you connect these villages with a train system and
voila, you have pedestrian villages with environmentally protected areas,
connected for wildlife migration.  A side note about having manufacturing
industry integrated into these urban villages is that you can't because the
manufacturing processes are toxic.  

In suburban Atlanta you'd have to literally demolish some existing
subdivisions and rebuild them with mixed use high-density centers, but
farther out where there are just farms (in the path of destruction) you
might be able to pull it off.  Note that in Atlanta, 11 counties are
Federal non-attainment areas, meaning that they don't meed EPA standards
for ground-level ozone.  Atlantans drive more per capita per day than any
other city in the USA (and the world).  Now the good old boys out in the
surrounding counties voted out the Metro Rapid Transit System (MARTA)
because of racist and classist prejiduces.  They don't want the
undesirables to be able to migrate easily there, so they vote no on MARTA,
while they choke on the air, stuck in the worst traffic known to man, and
wondering why they can't get anyone to fill those career minimum-wage
positions at the new retail centers mixed in the sprawl.  Lets face it,
these guys aren't smart enough to avoid the train wreck that's headed their

The smart fellows on the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) who think pure
thoughts and make profound statements, have a lot of this figured out.  But
without any teeth in their charter, can do nothing but pontificate, which
they do.  The main thing that puts pressure on the counties is the
withholding of federal funds for more road projects -- tied to the
non-attainment thing.  They have to address air quality to get road money. 
Ironic, but it's got them thinking.   So the conclusion was that the ARC
needed to be given some authority or the whole thing will collapse.  That
sounds like a top down approach to me.  I almost think the Feds should step
in and force a solution because what the state of Georgia does is linked to
the other regions including Tennessee.  Where are the Feds when we need

About the only thing in support of letting the free market system handle it
was the recent announcement by Hewlett Packard that they would not build
their second high-rise office tower at the top end of I-285 at perimenter
center because it doesn't make sense for their employees to sit in traffic
for an hour trying to get to work.  Having sufferred through sprawl in
Silicon Valley, HP is not anxious to repeat mistakes.  This was a wake up
call to the business community that they better get their act together or
their much-coveted growth may wane.  All this while the surrounding
counties still see growth as the answer to their problems.

Outside Chattanooga things are pretty much the same, so I think.

Gene Monaco
writing from Atlanta

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