This week, the Tennessee Aquarium marks its 20th anniversary, a significant milestone, but more than that a reminder of how far Chattanooga has come and the pivotal role the Aquarium has played in the city’s revitalization. As Chattanooga Land Co. president Bill Sudderth said on Sunday in the Times Free Press, “Where would we be without it? It’s almost unimaginable.”
Indeed, the development of the riverfront with the Aquarium as its centerpiece, sparked a wave of investment and renewal in downtown Chattanooga and changed the way its citizens view their city and, equally important, how businesses, entrepreneurs, artists and other creatives view Chattanooga when they consider relocating. Chattanoogans have gained a renewed sense of pride in their city, once famously derided as the dirtiest city in America, and enjoy a growing and diverse downtown filled with restaurants, clubs and entertainment venues. Outsiders (and the national press) now notice a city actively building a vibrant arts scene amid the natural beauty of the surrounding area that draws tourists and outdoors enthusiasts, while fostering an atmosphere of forward thinking that has earned the city new nicknames such as Gig City.
But as much has transpired over the past 20 years, Chattanooga is in no position to rest on its laurels. While we join in the celebration of the city’s revival and praise those who led the way, all that has occurred in this relatively brief period—and there is too long a list of positive developments to cite in this space—can now be viewed as just that—a remarkable renaissance that has paved the way for a new city that celebrates its renewal and looks forward.
As a free alternative weekly newspaper focusing on music and the arts, The Pulse could simply not exist without that renaissance. Had city leaders and the visionaries behind the effort to revive downtown Chattanooga never come forward, the city might still resemble the town I left 30 years ago. That city was a very different place—a crumbling, boarded up and deteriorating town that offered little to young people like myself at the time. When I reluctantly returned last year to my hometown, I happily rediscovered a city in full bloom, capable of supporting a publication dedicated to covering a scene that didn’t exist when I left.
In the Chattanooga of 1982, we lamented the city’s lack of much of anything to debate, besides its lack of luster. In the Chattanooga of 2012, we spend much time debating the merits of the city’s growing public art collection, the quality and appeal of acts appearing at such festivals as Riverbend and Nightfall, and trade ideas about the development of the city’s creative infrastructure.
Chattanooga’s challenge moving forward is to continue to embrace all that has improved the quality of life here and build upon that foundation. It takes more than tourists and a single project to make Chattanooga a vital, vibrant city on a daily basis. Thankfully, there is no shortage of individuals and organizations devoted to doing just that, and we count ourselves among them.
This is more the anniversary of a rebirth than a simple milestone—and you’re only 20, Chattanooga. Happy Rebirthday. The best is yet to come.