Chattanooga Changes its Ways
Steph and I started out in Chattanooga by deciding to take a walk around downtown to explore the Southern city. The first place we came to was the Walnut St. Bridge. We read from its placard that this old bridge was at one point destined to be torn down, but the citizens of Chattanooga decided to take the money it would have cost to demolish the bridge to instead restore it as a footbridge. This was indeed lucky for us, because it led us right across the river, straight to one of the coolest carousels we had ever seen! We felt like little kids again as we climbed these magical animals. I rode the rainbow fish while Steph fell for the ferocious tiger. We came to find out that these whimsical creatures were all hand carved by local Chattanooga residents. How cool is that?
After walking around for a while, it was time to use some public transportation. I had previously read about Chattanooga's electric buses, so we definitely couldn't pass up the chance to take a ride on one of those while we were here. Offered as a free service to get around downtown, the buses help cut down the amount of traffic. (And for a trekker, they helped cut down on our expenses for the day!) With a rechargeable battery, this solution gets rid of the dirt, smoke and smell of traditional diesel motors.
One thing that really impressed me about Chattanooga was the careful attention paid to its citizens. As I scrolled through past newspaper articles, I came across various public opinion polls. From education to city crime, the City Council considers and listens to the concerns of the community… even teenagers.
About three years ago, local businesses were annoyed with the teenagers who would skateboard through the sidewalks of downtown. Some of the kids went to the city council and said, "Hey, we love to skateboard. We're not doing drugs and we're not corrupting the streets, we just want a place to skate." And sure enough, the city leaders listened. With funding from the city and support from the City Council, a skate park was built! Teens used their voices to make themselves heard, and someone was listening.
Young people are being heard in many different ways in Chattanooga. Just this past October (2000), a Teen Summit was held. According to Patrick Miles, the YMCA Director of Teenage Development, over 500 students were surveyed. When asked what their five biggest concerns were, teens responded:
- dating and relationships
- career and future
- places to go with friends
- personal health and safety
After the surveys were taken, five students were selected from each school in the county to participate in discussion groups to address the survey results. And just in the last month (February, 2001), with the support of Councilman Yusuf Hakeem and the drive of students who attended the Youth Summit, a new Youth Council was created. This council will meet with the City Council to give voice to the concerns of young people in Chattanooga.
This certainly is evidence of a new movement in Chattanooga: Teenagers are speaking out and the city is listening. Creating a city where teens are proud to live and will want to return to after college is important to city leaders. Maybe you don't feel like your city is as open as Chattanooga. If you don't, Miles (who works with teenagers everyday) gives the following advice to you: Decide what problems you think are important to your community and come up with strategies. Then voice them! Don't just sit there and complain. Present your ideas to anyone who will listen.
Peanut Butter, a Trekker's Best Friend
Links to Other Dispatches
Stephen - "You are now entering the Mall of America: You will never return!!!!"
Neda - How many licks does it take to sell you a lollypop?
Stephen - "Beans. I want more beans! And gimme some cars, too."