There are cities that fly under the tourism radar for decades, then suddenly find themselves in the national spotlight. In 2018, that’s the story of Chattanooga, a town once best known for Glenn Miller’s big band anthem about a train.
Today, it’s one of Lonely Planet’s “Best in the U.S.” and “10 Destinations You Need to See in 2018,” and landed the number 25 spot of the New York Times’ coveted “52 Places to Go” in 2018. Not for nothing does Chattanooga rank #18 for Promotion, a measure of the quantity of stories, references and recommendations shared online about a city, with TripAdvisor review volume and Instagram hashtags leading the category.
Chattanooga came to heightened attention in 2015, when it became the first city in the U.S. to offer blistering-fast 10Gbps Internet, which begat considerable economic development and a new civic nickname. The city once known as “Chatt” or “Cha” or “The ‘Nooga” is now “Gig City,” home to, among many other companies, Volkswagen. Sure, VW came before high-speed Internet, but the firm feels good enough about the city and the benefits of its technology that it announced in September 2016 that it would hire another 1,100 workers in addition to its current 2,400 at its plant. Incidentally, the automaker operates the only LEED Platinum-certified auto manufacturing facility in the world. Chattanooga is currently at #52 for Prosperity, a measure of employment and corporate head offices, but look for that middling rank to rise in the future.
Yet as the Weekly Standard points out, the city that Walter Cronkite called the dirtiest in America in 1969 didn’t simply tap a screen to bring people and prosperity to its door. According to The Standard, after Chattanooga’s industry (and pollution) declined, decades of thoughtful urban renewal set the stage for an evolved city that could benefit from optimal connectivity. Chattanooga has a 19th-place rank for Product, which includes attractions and infrastructure: there’s the Tennessee Aquarium, the Chattanooga Riverwalk, a 13-mile waterside walking and biking path; and the reopened Walnut Street Bridge, a pedestrian walkway connecting the city core to the town’s North Shore and public Coolidge Park.
This year, the Times reports “new restaurants and music venues in the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo, a former train station; and, when it reopens this summer, an amphitheater and more green space to downtown Miller Park.” New hotels are making room for the curious, the entrepreneurs and other visitors, many of whom are faithful to the longstanding and rather analog (by comparison) Three Sisters Music Festival and the Boxcar Pinion Memorial Bluegrass Festival, both of which harken pleasingly to the past while the city leans ever more into the future.