What Birmingham can learn from a once smoggy dirty neighbor – AL.com - Freelance Rack

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Sunday, August 16, 2020

What Birmingham can learn from a once smoggy dirty neighbor – AL.com

ComebackTown is published by David Sher for a more prosperous greater Birmingham and Alabama

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Chattanooga saw the future and acted.

Now it’s Birmingham’s turn.

While we’re in the midst of a pandemic, it’s time for Birmingham to stop, take a breath, and develop a bold vision.

When I was a child my family regularly took weekend trips to visit family in Chattanooga.

Since there was no interstate, this was an exhausting ten hour weekend trip (back and forth) on dangerous, winding two-lane roads.

We filled our travel time by reading Burma Shave signs and counting “See Rock City” and “Ruby Falls” signs on the rooftops of barns along the way.

When we arrived we found a dirty, dingy industrial town.

In 1969, the Environmental Protection Agency declared Chattanooga had the “dirtiest air of any city in the United States…The air was so polluted that people drove with their headlights on during the day. Walking to work left clothes covered in soot, and it was difficult to see the mountains from the city.”

A transformed Chattanooga

Clean and welcoming—Chattanooga now boasts free and convenient electric shuttles, The Tennessee Aquarium, The Chattanooga Choo Choo, a magnificent river walk–plus the old standbys– Rock City, Ruby Falls, and the Lookout Mountain Incline Railroad.

Quite a tourist turnaround, but this is not why I’m writing this piece.

Chattanooga, which bills itself as both the Scenic City and the Gig City, boasts both a beautiful location and a technologically connected city.

The Gig City

In 2010 Chattanooga built its own affordable-lightning fast Internet system and according to Tech.co, “Chattanooga, Tennessee has the best internet in the entire United States, period.”

This has been great for Chattanooga during the pandemic for children needing internet to connect with their schools and adults needing internet to work from home.

According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, “If employees can work from home almost anywhere, many workers will be able to choose where they live and do their jobs. With more remote work options, many workers could migrate from expensive hubs like Silicon Valley, Seattle, Boston and New York to more affordable places like Chattanooga.”

An independent study published by the University of Tennessee noted that Chattanooga’s “network directly led to the creation of between 2,800 and 5,200 new jobs. Furthermore, the economic benefits have earned the small city around $1 billion… and (it) helped lure multinational corporations such as Volkswagen.”

Birmingham should consider upgrading its internet …or even better, Jefferson County could lead a broader effort.

Because of the coronavirus every city is facing new challenges. This is our opportunity to reset the clock.

We must respond and turn it to our advantage.

Let’s do something bold!

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