In October of 2011, readers of Outside Magazine overwhelmingly voted Chattanooga, Tennessee their ultimate dream town. The following year, the New York Times ranked the city #25 in The 45 Places to Go in 2012, a list that included such notable tourist destinations as London, Jordan, and Antarctica. However, Chattanooga’s current status as top tourist destination and darling of the outdoor lifestyle crowd was not always so. In 1969, Walter Cronkite declared it the “Dirtiest City in America” on his evening broadcast.
Cronkite’s statement was a wake up call for Chattanooga, which had long enjoyed prosperity as one of the top industrial and manufacturing cities in America. The Chattanooga/Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau was quickly established, but just as the smog began to clear the recession of the 1970’s and 80’s dealt a second blow. In the face of severe job layoffs, deteriorating infrastructure and social tensions, the Chamber of Commerce and Chattanooga Planning Commission created Chattanooga Venture, a non-profit organization tasked with bringing together citizens to clean up their city on all fronts. The organization held a series of public forums where residents were asked to dream about the way they wanted their city to be.
More than 1,000 residents participated in the four-month process, which resulted in the adoption of 40 goals for the city to achieve by the year 2000, including the revitalization of Chattanooga’s derelict downtown; creation of a distribution and transportation center to capitalize on the city’s prime location at the intersection of Interstates 75, 59 and 24; and solving problems with air, water and noise pollution. Today, many of those goals have been accomplished. The city and county have developed five miles of greenway which begins along the downtown Riverwalk and winds through several parks and the historic Bluff View Art District. Riverwalk is a world class tourist destination, offering the acclaimed Tennessee Aquarium and Tennessee Riverpark, where visitors can take rides on authentic paddle wheel steamboats.
While the accolades racked up by Chattanooga of late may astound some, my only surprise is that it took folks so long to fall in love with this city on the banks of the Tennessee River. I first rolled into town by chance seven years ago, just as the nine-day Riverbend Festival was wrapping up. I strolled around the downtown amidst cleanup crews, rode the free zero-emission electric buses through the business district, and walked across the river on the 120-year-old Walnut Street Bridge, which was converted for pedestrian use when it was no longer appropriate for car traffic. On the North Shore I found a handful of Yoga studios and cafes, along with the unmistakeable energy of a neighborhood poised to become Chattanooga’s newest arts enclave.
Over the years, Chattanooga has stayed on my horizon. During trips between Chicago and Atlanta it always seemed the perfect stopping point for dinner and I usually made my way to the turn-of-the-century warehouse district on the north side of the river, where old red-brick textile mills had morphed into local boutiques, artisanal shops, and restaurants. I never failed to be impressed, so when the Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors Bureau invited me to get to know their city a little better this past April, I jumped at the chance.
Just as I had suspected, the North Shore had become a prime location for local entrepreneurs and artists, a number of whom had begun life in the INCubator, a 125,000 square foot former ceramic manufacturing facility that now offers office or manufacturing space to start-up businesses at highly competitive lease rates. As a result, rather than being filled with ubiquitous franchises or national chain stores, merchants of the North Shore are overwhelmingly local. Shops fronting Coolidge Park offer everything from original art in galleries, to hand-painted furniture and decor at Tangerinas, and even natural hand-crafted sodas featuring flavors such as lavender mint, strawberry jalapeno, apple pie, orange basil and hibiscus lemon in the old-fashioned soda fountain at Pure Sodaworks.
But I soon learned that Chattanooga offered so much more than what I had seen on the North Shore. From my lovely penthouse hotel room at the Bluff View Inn, I walked across the glass bridge connecting the Bluff View Arts District with the downtown Riverfront. At the Tennessee Aquarium, the largest fresh-water aquarium in the world, I followed the journey of a single drop of water flowing from the Appalachian Mountains down the Tennessee River to the Gulf of Mexico.
Another day took me to the Southside District on Main Street, an up and coming neighborhood on the southern edge of downtown. Here I met John Sweet of Niedlov’s Bakery, who makes the artisan breads that are served in many of downtown Chattanooga’s eateries. I spent two lovely mornings there, gulping down fantastic coffee and swooning over their “everything” bagels, which are covered top and bottom, making them, in my opinion, the best everything bagels in the entire world. After an obligatory stop at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo and a tour of the Crash Pad, a great new hostel that caters to rock climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts, I drove a few blocks to The Hot Chocolatier, where owner Wendy Buckner begged forgiveness for not being able to meet with me as scheduled, since leaving the pot of chocolate she was stirring meant she would lose her temper. I grinned, realizing she was talking about tempering the chocolate, and told her to take her time as I slid into one of her grand wooden booths with another cup of coffee. My patience was rewarded when Wendy slid in across from me a short while later and shared the remarkable story of how she launched her gourmet pastry and desert business, not to mention the box of chocolate covered cherries she insisted I take upon departing.
I couldn’t leave Chattanooga without riding Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, the steepest passenger railway in the world. At the top I headed for Point Park, site of the famous Civil War “Battle Above the Clouds” and the perfect place from which to view Tennessee River’s Moccasin Bend. On the other side of the mountain I spent a few hours trying to find my way around Rock City Gardens with a poorly designed trail map. Though it was a bit hokey for my taste, with statues of elves scattered amongst the rocks and fake crystals attached to cavern walls, I was finally rewarded with a spectacular view of seven states from Lover’s Leap, a mammoth rock outcropping with sheer drop-offs to the valley below.
Of course, I returned to my old stomping ground, Manufacturer’s Road in the North Shore, to see what had occurred since my last visit. Developments that had been empty lots with sales trailers now offered upscale condos and an intriguing collection of small shops and services, again mostly local in nature, were now anchored by a Whole Foods Market.
So, back to my question: Why are more people are not raving about Chattanooga? I don’t have an answer but I suspect that it won’t stay the same for much longer. With thriving local shops and businesses, a strong music and arts culture, unrivaled outdoor amenities, excellent tourist sights, and a government and populace committed to sustainable development, Chattanooga is certainly has to be included on any list of the best place to live in America, and a wonderful place to vacation.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors Bureau during my stay in Chattanooga. However, the receipt and acceptance of complimentary items or services will never influence the content, topics, or posts in this blog. I write the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
227 thoughts on “Is Chattanooga the Best Place to Live in America?”
I am reading this amazing informative blog and given this information thanks for sharing this amazing and wonderful article and helping us
Lots of awesome information with a personal touch. 🙂
The place is very new to me but interesting and I would love to explore it more after my trip to India.
i was born there its amazing
We are getting ready to retire, is your city the best place for us to live… we are coming from York, PA…. thank you in advance…judy b ?
Hi, Nic blog you wrote on chattanooga i never visited there but i will go once in my life for sure .
Thank you sharing this one with us.
I really appreciate your work.
Thank you Brian
i was born there its amazing
Hello, I will be staying in Chattanooga this summer for an internship with CSX transportation. Does anybody have recommendations for a safe location to rent a place that is preferably close to the the diesel shop? I don’t even know where to begin looking. Thanks!
I think the Gunbarrel/Hamilton Place Mall is your best bet. It is safe with semi-heavy traffic, but nothing compared to the Ridge Cut to downtown traffic! Stay away from anything on Bonny Oaks!
If you want people to be friendly to you then you should be friendly and you\’ll find it being returned more often than not. Some on this website are just old scowlers who are seeking things to reinforce their scowly view of life- and their opinions about Chatt would be the same no matter what place was mentioned because they just want to find fault wherever they go. In spite of them Chatt has come across as a welcoming vibrant easy-to-live-in place with lots to do and friendly nice people. Sounds like a gem of a place- no matter where you come from or what color of skin you happen to have. Scowlers beware, though, it sounds like a place where grumps and fault-finders will have a hard time retaining those negative viewpoints! I enjoyed all those comments that actually explained what life is like in Chatt. Thanks.
Sounds like a lot of Different Views on Chattanooga,…
Im open to Hear. …
How would One Compare This Southern City to Mobile Alabama as far as Quality of Life for Single Gay Men over 50 ( Home Owners)
I too am considering moving to Chatt. from So. California. I am a 55 year old black man, retired Law Enforcement who will be moving back to the south east and being originally from Alabama, I do understand some of the cultural differences. I will spending up to about 500K for a home.
I do love the diversity and weather of So Calif. however it has become a bit too crowded for me and I am looking to transition closer to family. Just looking for suggestions of areas in Chattanooga that I would be comfortable living in.. Something private, peaceful and where I can enjoy the scenic beauty and other cultural pursuits like Jazz, Art etc. It does not have to be within the city limits since I now work from home mostly. Thanks
I’ve visit chattanooga several times and I’m looking to relocate there as well it has a humbleness feeling there, different culture and it’s definitely family oriented. I love the serinity and the structure of the homes also your surrounded by water which is heaven to me and not crowded coming from Atlanta I’m looking forward to relocating.
Paul, I’m a little late to the post but did you ever move to Chattanooga? Curious to see where you landed? If you need any help – I am a realtor who specializes in people locating to Chattanooga area. My family moved to Chattanooga 6 years ago so we know how hard it can be to pin down a location! [email protected]
Paul you and i share same demograohics. Black male 55 yrs old. Military and law enforcement background. I am considering relocating my background screening businesses to chatt. Vall me at 301.535. 8413. Joel
I was curious if you made the move and how it went for you . My wife and I will be relocating there this spring . Hope all went well for you
Looking for more open/honest feedback and information on life/living in Chattanooga.
My family is considering relocating to Chattanooga next year, so I started reading the comments on this site/blog. Honestly, I am a little nervous given what I’ve read. Every city/town has it’s pros and cons. We live in a suburb 30 min outside of Chicago (which given the gang violence and constant shootings in certain areas of the city, it seems to outsiders that the entire city is dangerous and deadly – though the reality is, only certain neighborhoods are dangerous). We have never let what happens in some parts of Chicago (namely the Southside) stop us from enjoying all the beauty, culture, art, amazing dining and outdoor activities that other parts of the city afford. I only mention that because there are comments about gang violence in Chattanooga, and I’m wondering if it’s similar — isolated to certain areas or more diffuse throughout Chattanooga?
Here are my questions:
1. What is Signal Mountain like to live on? We visited in August, and a realtor showed us many beautiful neighborhoods there. Are people clique-ish or friendly? The realtor said the mountain was a ‘sophisticated Mayberry,’ and it certainly looked that way to us. What are the schools like on Signal Mountain?
2. We are not religious. Will this be a problem? Are people accepting? I know that this area is part of ‘the bible belt’ as someone mentioned. Is there a lot of focus on one’s religion or lack thereof?
3. Are Northerners considered ‘outsiders?’ My husband and I have 2 children – our daughter will likely be attending 9th grade next year at The Baylor School (prompting us to relocate). Our son is 2. We are looking for a place with a sense of community. I would say we are open minded people, tolerant of everyone, non-judgmental, friendly, outgoing. From our numerous visits thus far, we have met the NICEST people in Chattanooga. Seriously, the nicest people I’ve ever met (and we’ve traveled all over the world). I was worried it was a facade, but this last visit (we stayed a week), I really felt it was genuine. I spoke to everyone I could about life in Chattanooga (the seafood guy at Whole Foods, the cashier at Starbucks, you name it). Everyone had great things to say about living in the city and about Baylor.
4. Prejudice? My husband is of Mexican descent, and I am Caucasian. I know there are open and closed-minded people everywhere. But, where we live now, it’s more of a melting-pot outside of Chicago. Thoughts?
We are outdoorsy and are so excited about all of the outdoor activities Chattanooga offers. So, no questions or issues on that front! I see why the city is rated #1 by Outside magazine in this category.
I have lived in the Chattanooga area since 1995. I grew up in Detroit and West Africa. I have seen the spectrum of racism and have been the target of racism. I say this only so you may know that my background is diverse and I tend to see things from a wider perspective. Let me first address your concerns. Like any city, even the smallest and friendliest, there are places that are more haphazard than others. Chattanooga is no different. I have black friends that live in certain neighborhoods and they will be the first to tell you that those places are not the safest place to live. However, there are hundreds of other places in Chattanooga and the surrounding areas that are safe, affordable and convenient. Signal Mountain is one such place. I do business there and have seen all different ethnicities getting along just fine in this area. Very nice folks in that community. There are gangs, but I have never had any issues with them and have worked, played and “hung out” in the downtown area for many years. Go looking for trouble and you will find it. Having lived in Nashville and Detroit, I found these places to be far more dangerous. I would express to you that my “slice of life” in Chattanooga is not as limited as many of the commenters here, or so it seems. I have a very wide range of personal and professional dealings with an incredible mix of socio-economical and ethnic backgrounds. In other words I see it all, including being friends with many homeless people, who, by the way, are also very nice. In fact, I know several who are in some of the gangs and they would tell you the same thing. Gang bang, sell drugs, pull deals, and odds are you will be involved in some form of altercation at some point. Live normal, don’t do illegal things, and you will have nothing to worry about.
Religion: I am a Christian. I have friends who are not. My view of religion is that the church is meant for broken people who are struggling, need help, and believe that there is something more after we die. Some people hate the “religious” feel of Chattanooga because they think that church is full of a bunch of hypocrites. I could not agree more. We are a bunch of hypocrites which is exactly why I’m there. What need of a Savior or a church if we were all perfect? I really don’t see people disparaging others simply because they are not religious. In fact, I have seen a growing number of people who do not claim any religious affiliation. That said, I feel confident in saying that the odds are you will, at some point, run into an individual like me who may invite you to come to church just so you can see how we love all people in spite of our many faults. If you say no, I will still be your friend. It’s just how we roll in Chattanooga.
Are Northern transplants considered outsiders? No. I’m from the North, always been proud of that, wear my Michigan State and Detroit ball caps all the time, speak with a strange accent, still call Cokes, “Pop” or “Soda”. All I’ve ever gotten was grins. It’s simple. Be friendly in Chattanooga, and people will bend over backwards for you here. No joke.
Hispanics-they are a growing portion of our community and I recently worked for 7 years in a place where they comprised approximately 80% of the work force. Several of my hispanic friends are married to Caucasians. In the many years I have known them and their families, I never heard of any issues. I see many “mixed” groups when I go out, but I intentionally look for these kinds of things and do not walk around in my own little world. I see Chattanooga as a rather diverse place, but if I’m only looking to prove how “un-diverse” it is, then I suppose that is what I would see. The fact is, Chattanooga is diverse and accepting, even more so than many cities I have been to up North.
You did not bring it up, but the people who say it rains all the time here…I’m like, “Where exactly are you living?” This is such an easy solution. There is this awesome thing called Google where one can go and actually pull up the weather history for Chattanooga so it is not a subjective thing. One can even look at the percentage of rainfall per day, month, year compared to other areas. Chattanooga is far from a rainy, dismal town. We enjoy great climate. The pollen however…ugh! Just take you a Claritin each day and you’re good.
I hope I have answered your questions/concerns. I have and continue to have opportunities to live anywhere. Not just in America, but in the world. I stay in this area because I honestly have yet to see a place that offers what Chattanooga offers. It truly is the full package. Hard to appreciate unless one has actually traveled the world and seen/lived in other places.
What a thoughtful, considered, and intelligent reply, Craig. Thank you for taking the time. I am sure it will be helpful to many here who have had questions that I could not answer.
What neighborhoods would you consider to be safe? My parents (they are in their 70’s and they both have health problems) are moving to Chattanooga in 4 weeks but we don’t know anything about the neighborhoods. They are wanting to rent for 6 months to a year and then possibly buy. Any recommendations would be extremely helpful! 🙂
One area that jumps to my mind considering your parent’s age is the Ooltewah/Collegedale area. It is about 15 minutes from downtown Chattanooga (exit 11 off I75 North towards Knoxville). There are upper end homes, town homes and retirement condos, and everything in between. Growth rate is good in this area and the age demographic matches nicely with that age bracket. The afore mentioned Signal Mountain is nice, but this area tends to be expensive. The Hixson/Redbank area has some great prices on property and homes and is also close to downtown. I would recommend getting in touch with a realtor from this area and let them know your specific needs and budget. Good luck! -Craig
Hi there~ I am thinking of purchasing a nice older home in Redbank. I want to rent it out for about 1 or 2 years before I move there. I chose that area because it seems like a great location with possible future growth and it also seems peaceful and pretty. I am looking at a few homes with the help of a busy smart realtor at Keller Williams, named Bekah. I would like comments about that area, since I live in California currently. Plus if you want a nice home to rent or purchase phone Bekah Cochran at 423.508.5986 and tell her Ms Hepp from California sent you. Who knows maybe I will find my great tenant on this blog.
Thank you very much,
PS Contact me through Bekah! (You’re gonna like her) 😉
How lesbian friendly is Chattanooga compared to Nashville and or Knoxville. How is the cost of living and employment, housing costs.
I have the exact same questions, I am looking to relocate from the Vermont/upstate New York area. We have looked at a few areas including north and south Carolina. We would ideally like to start a family someday, and was wondering how lesbian and family friendly this area would be.
I agree with your response regarding Chattanooga. We too are from the “North” and proud of it. I hope those that are looking to move to Chattanooga do read these posts. And, it will help them with their decisions. The major changes/dislike I have is the difference in the school system compared to where we are from–Illinois. Grew up around great public schools everywhere. It was just how it was. But, we have met and have found Signal Mtn as awesome and look forward to a quality life forming life long relationships on signal.
Hope this helps viewers with their decisions!
Thanks for some great info Craig
Did you move here? If so, how have you found our fair city? As someone who moved here in 1999, I have watched many of the changes and have seen the ups and downs of living here.
Hi Barb I’m a little late to the post but did you ever make a decision on moving? Curious to see where you landed?
If this helps: We live on Signal and it is like Mayberry – but we love it. Kids riding bikes down the street to the library and pool. Little league games going on every night and art and music classes right don the street. Schools are the best in Chattanooga – Our kids attend Thrasher. People can seem Cliqueish BUT once you make friends you will have them forever.
2: This is the bible belt but I don’t think people push church too much. I think you will get people asking where you go to Church but that’s about as for as it gets.
3: Northerners: My wife is one and she blends right in. So is our neighbor!
4: Chattanooga is a melting pot and the more diversity the better. My neighbor in Louisiana – Guatamlian.
Outdoorsy – YOU WILL NEVER GET BOARD! We are hardly at home since there is so much to do!!
If you need any help – I am a realtor who specializes in people locating to Chattanooga area. My family moved to Chattanooga 6 years ago so we know how hard it can be to pin down a location! [email protected]
My family and I may be moving to Chattanooga from Atlanta because of a job opportunity for my husband. We have a two year old and would like to rent for a while in a very nice, family friendly area. We will be selling our house in Atlanta, if the job opportunity works out. We are used to all of the accessibility and culture that Atlanta has to offer and we are a bit nervous of the possibility of moving to a smaller city. The job is not set in stone yet, we are waiting on the final offer. We have visited Chattanooga and were very impressed with all it has to offer and the warm environment. All of our family live in Atlanta and we love our community. We are nervous to say the least and would love any insight on the best and safest places to live/rent for a young family in the Chattanooga area.
My husband and four kids are looking at relocating to the Chattanooga area in the next couple months due to an excellent job opportunity. We currently live in the Midwest and cost of living is very similar (except that our current property taxes are 7th highest in the Nation). Our children range from preschool to 7th grade. They have been in top-ranked public schools their whole life and are used to diversity. Can anyone share family friendly neighborhoods with good schools? We love the outdoors, good places to eat, growing vegetables, and the kids like to play sports and be involved. We currently have an acre so we are used to having a little space to spread out. We are open-minded about different areas and hope to find a neighborhood as wonderful as the one we have now. Your ideas/thoughts would be appreciated!
OK, so I’m moving out to the Chattanooga area next month. I am moving from Southern California for better College for my daughter. She’s going to a college in Collegedale. I have read every comment on this article and have to say I’m a little freaked out. I am half black, and half white my husband is white. Although my girls look like they just have a nice tan, they love their black heritage.
When I read all these comments, I feel like going to be is living in a place that still the 1960’s. like I’m going to see white only drinking fountains. It actually seems unreal to me that anywhere in the US still has this mindset. I’m kind of scared now. it makes me wonder why anybody would want to move here. I’m sorry I’m not trying to be rude or disrespectful of your town but just by what I’m reading I’m starting to think twice. like I’m legitimately scared to tell people that I’m half black. I guess I just didn’t realize that this was still going on. And it makes me sad.
rereading my comment I have to say that even if I mention that I’m scared to tell people that I’m half black, that’s just because I was wondering if I could even find a job. Not because I m ashamed of my black side. but I also agree that there is racism in every city and that it’s probably not as bad as some of the comments that I’ve read. I’m still excited to move here!
No worries Ginger! We are a diverse, accepting community. Your being half black will make about as much difference as my being half Scottish! In other words; not an issue in C’Nooga. In fact; having an ethnic background opens the door for lots of opportunities for those who’re willing to work hard and make an investment in their own future. I’m sure you’ll have your pick of jobs before you know it! Just relax and enjoy your new adventure in this lovely area!
Here in Chattanooga, separate drinking fountains went out in 1960. You’ve been mislead . There will always be misconceptions about the south in general. Long ago (1963-1967), I was stationed in California in the U.S. Air Force. In California, the negative misconceptions about the south were numerous and even insulting. In 1967 when I left California at the age of 22, lets just say I boarded the “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and never looked back. I’m happy here in the south in general and Chattanooga, Tennessee in particular.
Yes, in fact, it is.
The weather can be grey and rainy, we get more rain than Seattle. There are gang activities, hardly a day without a shooting in the newspaper. Racism is real, public schools are lacking. While there is not an in your face attitude exhibited it is a small town run by the rich and influential. Downtown has had a resurgence and is doing nicely. The arts are given a lot of lip service but there is no support for working artists and very few galleries. If you would like to live in a place where you constrain yourself to a small group of friends and it’s asset is being near everything else, you will like it. If you are looking for diversity and progressive attitudes you may be disappointed.
Spot on. I lived there for 3 years and was initially in love with the city. My love eroded over time as I realized the dark side.
You’re nit picking. There is gang activity in every city. There is racism in every city (especially in the South). Public schools are having a tough time nation-wide and the entire country is run by the rich and influential.
There are far more positives to the city of Chattanooga than there are negatives, and luckily it appears that the majority of people tend to share my point of view over yours.
Good words, Blake!
You’re both right. Just because every city (especially Southern ones) have these problems does not mean that they can be overlooked in Chattanooga. For me the positive aspects of the city are worth living with the negatives. All we can do is work to better the things we don’t like.
Oh and the rain part is true. I grew up in Seattle. Luckily, it is not just the weather but also the neighborhoods and people that remind me of home.
I’m a black man in this city. I’ve done very well for myself. The negatives you described can be found in any city of any decent size if you look. It’s sunny here much more than its rainy. Get out and enjoy yourself!
Im black also and with kids would this be a nice place to live as far being a black person. looking for a nice area to move to
Thanks so much to the black resident for chiming in. Although I am white, it is refreshing to see other viewpoints regardless of race. I presently live in North Mississippi and have loved Chattanooga for many years…the scenery, the small town feel but definitely a big city compared to our 35K population, and the amenities. I hope to move there in a couple of years. I have been researching the city for the last year in an effort to find out as much as I can about idea living areas, schools, etc. I would love to connect with more of the locals and find out what they have to say about the city. I try to visit Chattanooga once or twice a year….there is something about that place that continues to draw me to it. I am an author and hope to be publishing future books from Write in the Mountains, Tennessee.
I totally agree. It’s beautiful…..It’s the most fertile ground for endless possibilties for passion-filled entrepreneurs, creatives & go getters. If only a larger section of the small population & “the powers that be” would support. NO jobs for us. NONE. Over the 37 years of my residence here I’ve said goodbye to way too many incredibly talented and innovative, fellow pioneers who believed in this city. They came because they felt the fertility and organic vibrancy. Over time, they saw as I have seen the “stuckness” of this rare city. The lack of care & heartfelt action from the good ole boy network who “run” this town truly rules in the shadows and quiet but powerful places. We the people, the citizens, the believers, the creators, the workers can thank them. NO jobs for us. We’ve tried every angle…..and still silence. It’s clear who’s in charge. As a citizen I will very soon have to say goodbye to this city too. It’s a fantastic place to visit and explore.
I was born in Chattanooga but married and moved to Georgia. I’m retired now and wish I had stayed in Tennessee. Our aquarium in Atlanta doesn’t come close to the beauty and surrounding area of the Chattanooga Aquarium. Atlanta could learn a lot from all the improvements made in Chattanooga but unfortunately I do not see that happening.
Thank you for your wonderful article! I was born and raised in Chattanooga and eventually the suburbs doue to the white flight of the sixties. My Dad worked downtown for TVA. I remember driving downtown and my parents having to turn on the windshield wipers to clear the windows of the suspended particulate (smog). This was about the time of the infamous Cronkite declaration. Downtown was dirty, crime ridden and dangerous. When I turned 18 I got as far from here as possible. I lived in Europe in the USAF for one tour. I moved back in ’86. It had begun to improve greatly. Downtown and North Shore were in the infancy of this great renaissance but you got a feeling of progress. I continued to roam, Atlanta, Cape Cod, Maui, Hawaii, Aspen and Boulder Colorado. Every time I came back, Chattanooga began to really impress me. I finally came home for good in ’92. I had lived in some of the most beautiful places in the country and I finally saw Chattanooga through comparative eyes. It is truly as beautiful, if not more so as the places my travels had taken me. It is an easy place to live. The cost of living though rising, is still very affordable. The people are truly friendly and if you have any imagination and sense of adventure the available activities are limitless. The nightlife is blossoming and the growth of cullinary delights is impossible to keep up with. The visual arts and music scene is exploding.
Chattanooga still does suffer from segregation and inequality but our progresssive leaders are working hard. Gentrification is certainly a two side coin. Renovating neighborhoods like North Chattanooga and the Southside are creating beautiful, vibrant neighborhoods but at the same time are displacing people. We still need more affordable housing for the rather large service class in the downtown area. We do have a gang problem which is generally focused in a few neighborhoods though not entirely. Downtown is not Disney World but is relatively safe if you keep your eyes open.
It is the “Buckle of the Bible Belt” but their is a large pocket of progressives in the North Shore, Downtown, Southside and St. Elmo communities. I do believe Obama did carry those voting districts and would again if… Our current Mayor Andy Berke is a liberal Jewish Democrat and is doing a wonderful job. I am an athiest but have many wonderful Christian friends and I have many, many like minded friends. The community is becoming remarkably LGBT accepting even among my conservative friends.
Chattanooga has come a long way and in many ways it still has a long way to go but it’s vibrance and progress is palpable and exciting. It is absolutely gorgeous. I never tire of it’s exquisite beauty.
You’re very welcome Travis. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story.
Yes you are most likely racist but you can’t help it because you were born there. I am not southern and lived there for 3 yrs. It is by far the most racially and economically place I have ever lived. As a non-white friend said to me, “Chattanooga is great if you are a white person.”
Having lived all over, actually the most racially divided city I’ve ever lived in, ironically, is the birthplace of the civil rights movement, a city with no real reason to ever visit as a tourist destination, that of Birmingham. I’ve spent time in both, tend to agree, with most the more balanced commenters who lean towards issues in the south of racial segregation and good ol’ boy networks of wealth and power pulling strings.
Most the southern cities have small groups of families who owned all the mills and factories, they still run everything in most southern cities excepting a few that welcomed Northerners and change such as Atlanta, where I also lived, and somewhat parts of Nashville. Where the influx of people moving overwhelmed the ruling class of a few by diversification of decision makers and those not like most of the wealthy conservative elite, those who are progressive and aren’t trying to hold the south back, which is what most of the south is, old old conservative white men clinging to the past, scared of change the future.
Chattanooga somehow in small parts have broken free, it is a great place to visit, to live is another matter. This said, compared to say Birmingham, Chattanooga is the bees knees.
In the 1st Century, it is ever so Sad to Hear of Racism, I will Say no more to this because I know this is not a Forum for Racism discussion, and, I’m Saddened to hear it Even Mentioned here
I am Looking to Be a New Tourist here, with Intentions of Moving there.
Chattanooga is becoming more cosmopolitan. Its not the “bible belt” any longer. This city wants to grow and most of us here in Chattanooga welcome everyone.
I loved your article and your insightful responses to the comments. My boyfriend and I are from Wisconsin and will be moving to Chattanooga in three months for me to attend graduate school. What should we expect in terms of weather (seasons, any quirks or advice, etc). Do you have any other advice for living there for northerns like us who have never really experienced the South?
Thanks so much Hilary. Well, I’m a northerner but have always felt welcome in Chattanooga. The pace of life is slower, as is the language, which I find delightful. Take the time to say hello and ask how people are – you will find it is much appreciated. As for weather, one of the things I like most about Chattanooga is the weather. The winters are moderate, with little snowfall, and the mountains are so close, which makes for an easy getaway during the hot summers. nHope you’ll come back here after you’ve been there a while and let us know how you like living there.
I love Chattanooga but moved away solely because of the weather. It is overcast and cloudy on a very regular basis there.
It’s a beautiful city and the aricle correctly depicts the city… the rain and clouds will get to you though.
Weather is the last reason I’d stay.
In my part of Chattanooga it isn’t often overcast and cloudy. Wonderful, moderate weather!
I lived in Chattanooga for several years in the mid-2000s , have visited multiple times each year since, and am moving back this summer – I’ve never once heard it described as a town with dreary weather. In fact, I think it’s incredibly mild for a southern summer and just enough cold in the winter. I’ve enjoyed countless sunny days in Chatt, not sure where you are living, but the city isn’t like this at all.
Be kind, gentle and respectful to others when coming to Chattanooga.
Most of us get along because of this attitude. Chattanooga is built on respecting others.
The season are great here except July and August are hot and humid. If you utilize the land around here you should be able to be comfortable. Go hiking, biking or paddling in the surrounding mtns. It’s typically cooler and less humid. Fall is perfect and stays about 70 degrees. Winter-we only usually have 2 or 3 good snowfalls of 5-6″. We typically only have about a month or 2 of cold weather (30 degrees). Spring is fabulous and we have beautiful blooms. But plan on finding a allergist as soon as you arrive here.
It’s small and unique. If you are social then everyone will most likely know your business. That can be good and bad depending on your ethics (morals). Integrity will take you a long way in Chattanooga. We do have many people that are very religious (organized religion). If you are not religious, keep your attitude to yourself. If you are, you will find many groups to choose from. Some are Crazy (just my opinion).
If you like to eat out, there are many new options these days. 10 years ago there wasn’t any restaurants. Now it is becoming a tourist destination and the culinary has exploded. Although, we still have a lot of chains.
We do have Rednecks and just don’t cross them. Best to learn to say Y’all and try to learn something from them and not be too judgemental (like I just did).
We do still have many race issues. Segregation is still strong. But it does seem to be getting better (in my opinion but I’m a white male).
That’s my 2 cents and I hope it helps with your transition. We are known to be the friendliest people in the world. If you ask directions, anyone in earshot will help. Some will take you to your destination.
Lastly, we have a gang problem. It is really black on black and it shouldn’t effect you unless you are in a gang. After reviewing this, it does sound like I’m racist but it is my opinion. We also have a lot of homeless people and a lot of panhandlers.
A convenient store is on every other block. You will most likely frequent these stores. It’s convenient.
You people who say segregation is strong?? WTFriggin? I’ve lived here since 1961. There are no more colored/white lunch counters, etc. You give a bizarre distortion from, thankfully, decades ago. What up? Chattanooga, like the rest of our great Land, has unlimited opportunity for education, employment, and progress for all. You want it? Like anything else, work hard toward that goal! You want a life of mediocrity? Live it. You want Utopia? Go to Glandork, beyond the fourth galaxy, sector 381b! Take I-75 and keep on going…for a long time.
did you just say it’s not humid? lol goodness you are way off base. its one of the most humid mid sized cities in the south
Mike: I have deleted five of your comments that were racist and vile. Please stop or I will ban you entirely.
Wow. Not sure what mike said that you deleted, but frankyb’s racist comment about blacks in gangs goes unchecked…. Uh yeah, we will totally avoid this city based on the commenting residents. Your article is nice but clearly the racism is strong in Chattanooga.
I’m not sure what you read that lit your fuse! Frankyb’s comments were not racist. There are gangs here in Chattanooga and they are comprised of black individuals for the most part, with a few hispanic gangs as well. Please do avoid our wonderful little community if you get your panties in a twist by someone telling the truth. I moved here 10yrs ago and love it, I tend to find transplants from the North who are the most obnoxious and unfriendly. I’m from the North so don’t say I’m anti-Northern! Chattanooga is beautiful and ripe with opportunity for ALL races, just not continual “victims” like yourself who obviously LOOK for a reason to be offended. Again, we will not shed a tear if you and your ilk decide to skip our exit.
to yankee in the south. and to anyone reading: racism is alive and well in the north, too. this yankee is obviously one of these racists and now has the nerve to tell people to stay ouf of chattanooga. she obviously fits right into her white crowd, and goes square dancing every week.. i am sure , yankee, you have your fake southern accent everywhere you go.
if you’re not religious, keep your opinions to yourself? why don’t xtians keep their opinions to themselves? i don’t want preached at by anyone. if there are muslims in your face, you wouldn’t want them preaching at you, would you? i have a sister (from PA) living in the suburbs there and she is one of the most bigoted, hateful people i know. and she fits right in with her phony southern accent.
I have to chime in and say that, while I love all the burgeoning culture and all the outdoor activities that Chattanooga has to offer (that’s why we moved here, and this article was one that helped convince me), I have never lived in a city with THIS kind of economic and racial disparity. I grew up in the South, but Chattanooga is shockingly racist and stratified to me. I’ve lived gere for just a few months, and everyone from our realtor to co-workers have disparaging comments to make about the African-American and Hispanic immigrant communities. I see and hear racist remarks daily, and there is a MAJOR brain drain and resource drain into private schools here. Many of the wealthy, white families send their kids to private schools and don’t bat an eyelash. Then you hear the same families complaining about gang violence and the bad public school system and the neighborhoods “you don’t want to drive through.” Okay, well, this is YOUR city. Why do you think it’s gotten this way? What do you think poverty, racial profiling, and lack of education and work opportunities will DO to your city? I hate it. There are pocket communities that seem to be diverse, like St Elmo, but in general the face of Chattanooga that you showed is lily white and not changing anytime soon. I would never raise my children in this city. There are GOOD people here, but the overall culture of racial inequality, bigotry and anti-intellectualism is shocking, even for Tennessee.
Hi Emily: I’m sad to hear this. I cannot tolerate discrimination in any form. I have lived in the south for long periods of time and heard similar things, but have always found that there are like-minded accepting people in any city – you just have to find them.
Hi Emily and Jakob: I have lived in Chattanooga since 1977 , moved down from the north and I will always choose the south. All the things you both have mentioned are true about any where. And religious! You have Christians everywhere, thank God. Every town has the educated, poor and drugs, Chattanooga is no different. The area is beautiful if you like the outdoors. Downtown has improved over the years and my daughter and I enjoy it a lot. Great restaurants!
Yes, thank GOD! WHY and HOW has this discussion become a Christian bashing, hate page?!
I don’t see any Christian-bashing. Some people don’t like to live in areas where they are likely to experience proselytizing. Wouldn’t you rather they ask it in a blog column than move to your city and find out that they are in unfriendly territory if they choose not to follow a religion?
Kneejerk much? Don’t see anyone Christian bashing but Christians are very quick to bash those who aren’t Christian. Quite often it’s the Christians persecuting everyone who chooses otherwise.
Put it to you another way, does it bother you if I’m not a Christian? If the answer is yes, you need to look in the mirror, you’ll find the person with the actual problem. Some of us want to go about our lives in peace without attitude from Christians for not practicing their religion. Judge not lest you be judged.
Sta have lived in Chattanooga most of my life and it is not a racist city like you say it is all city’s in the world have racist individuals no matter were you live there will always be people like that I have friends of all races and I love them all this is a beautiful and wonderful place amazing city I’ve lived in Savannah ga, and Panama city fl, and myrtle beach sc, all amazing places but I always come back here its home I feel safe here it has its ups and its downs as do all city’s but this is a amazing city you should just meet new people I live in the rossville ga, area now which is right on the state line and if you find the right area its wonderful I love it here
Just leave. We don’t need or want you here.
Is this an example of the kind of Chattanooga friendliness everyone is talking about? With that attitude, you’re not exactly a poster child for your city.
@David Rut YOU don’t get to decide who stays and who goes. Maybe you should be the one to leave!
Emily, I hope you left. I lived there for a few years in one of the less racially divided neighborhoods but over time the divided climate got to me. When I started looking for a house I also had realtors steering me away from the “unsafe black” neighborhoods. Chattanooga despite it’s “progressive outdoor cool” reputation has a long way to go and it is not going to get there anytime soon because there is a deep institutional racism built into the culture. The school system is the most divided I have ever seen. Yes, there are some opportunities for the poor with many magnet schools around the city but mostly they just get stuck with the underfunded failing schools. People love to talk about each other too. As one person told me, “gossip is the favorite dish at the southern table”. He was spot on. I was involved with my neighborhood and what I found was just how much everything was very subtly controlled by the wealthy class especially the Lookout Mountain aristocracy. The foundations that have done some good is old money from the mountain and therefore tainted in my opinion. Every mayor that comes along promises to make it better for black community saying they will reduce the violence and improve their communities. As far as I know they have all failed. I am not even blaming them, as the historical baggage runs very deep in Chattanooga. I lived in a racially mixed neighborhood that was slowly gentrifying and what I found was a profound difficulty in getting to know my black neighbors. They are suspicious of white people and scared our arrival means they will have to leave.And I think they are usually correct. House prices go up and taxes follow suit. All of these things coupled with an over the top pollen count, and too much heat resulted in me moving back west. I think there are many of us that came to Chattanooga for similar reasons but once we saw it’s dark side moved on.
PS: The comments by Diane and Lee are great examples of people who live in the forest and for that reason cannot see the trees. David is a good example of the hateful southerner who can’t take criticism and his only solution for you is to “get the hell out.” Both are are examples of why Chattanooga is so slow to change. That said, I had some wonderful friends there and we confided in each other as we attempted to make Chattanooga a better place. Chattanooga Organized for Action is a great organization fighting against the racial and socio-economic injustices in Chattanooga.
I grew up in Chattanooga. I lived there for 22 years before living in places like Baton Rouge, Birmingham, Winston-Salem, and now St. Louis. Yes there are some racist people in Chattanooga, but I feel like it is the least racist of all the cities that I have lived in. St. Louis, which is the only city I’ve lived in above the Mason-Dixon line, seems to be the most racist of all the cities I’ve lived in. The majority of my friends growing up were black or mixed, and I went to private schools. Many people I knew were in interracial relationships, including myself at one point. Chattanooga is a very accepting and friendly place in my opinion.
And to the person who asked why everyone sends their children to private schools, you answered your own question. The public school system is terrible. Why would any parent want their child to go to a school that will not help them to grow and prosper in life. Sending their kids to the public schools in the area would not make the public schools any better.
If we’re comparing Chattanooga to other places, you’re basically describing the problems that almost any city has (especially in the southeast). None of these is unique to Chattanooga.
I see this an old thread, but I’ll comment just in case anyone is reading this with a curiosity about Chattanooga, as I am so doing right now. I drove through 20 years ago on a cross country road trip, and I’ve never forgotten it.
I am originally from the West Coast of California, and am currently in BC, Canada. In between those two places, I have lived and traveled all over the States, including the South. I have to say, in regard racism as a factor in Chattanooga–that while the South has the “racist” stereotype, it does not have the lock on racism. It is unfortunately, everywhere to a greater or lesser extent. I would say, that though California is perceived as being very progressive and diverse, it is really only the large coastal urban areas that are so. Go inland and things change quickly. I have witnessed some very disturbing and very overt redneck racism in inland Northern California that would give the rural South a run for it’s money. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit, that in my own upper middle class educated white Irish Catholic family, a few of my elders have some shockingly racist attitudes.
So, while agree that I would not want to move anywhere with a strong racial divide or predominantly racist attitudes, you’re going to some of it just about anywhere. (Which is not to say that if you are a minority that you should just tolerate it; goes without saying, I hope.)
Even here on Vancouver Island there are rednecks (far more than I ever imagined) and you will find racist attitudes against the first nations people.
It is something that we must all work to change, no matter where we live.
Emily, keep your toxic thoughts to yourself. If you don’t like TN, just leave and go back to your double-wide and leave us alone.
Thank you for the info:-). I too will likely be relocating to chattanooga in about six weeks. I’m originally from San fransisco but have lived in New York the past three years. If I never saw a drop of snow again I’d be happy!
My concern is with the articles I keep reading about how religious everyone is there and how close minded everyone is. I’m a very non religious person and my girlfriend is from thailand and speaks very little English. I worry that we will not be easily welcomed.
No worries, Chattanooga is a hip vibrant small city with a pretty diverse group of people . I’m originally from NY. I live an hour and 1/2 away from Chattanooga in Huntsville AL and I get to Chattanooga as much as possible. Its an awesome town. It obviously won’t be as diverse and accepting as a San Fran or NY but it is a welcoming environment. Now yes, the south is deeply religious for the most part and that can be seen as closeminded but I think there is a good mix of out of towners that help even it all out. I hope to move to chattanooga myself one day.
I am from Wisconsin and I will be relocating to Chattanooga in about three months. My boyfriend is half-Libyan and has a very ethnic (Arabic) name, and I am a little worried as well that we may have to deal with some racial issues. However, I think we could easily find those like us in the city who are more open-minded 🙂
I’m from Chattanooga I love it here yes there are a some religious freaks here but I’m not religious at all You can just avoid those people like I do but it’s pretty diverse lot of different cultures religions and ethnicities it’s an amazing place to live I love it here
In Chattanooga you will find some of everything. From rich to poor, from caring to harsh, from open minded to close minded, religious to non-observant, artistic to practical, it is here. One can find a happy niche for oneself in this town. Even in the Hamilton County schools one can find inspiring teachers and successful students, especially in some of the magnet schools.
This is a really nice article about Chattanooga. I’m planning a move this fall from Pittsburgh (previously lived in ATL and Memphis, so familiar with the south). Love the sports here–tired of the winter and lack of sunshine (we have less sunshine than Seattle!). So now I’m researching neighborhoods to target, what amenities are available where, etc. etc. I’m very much looking forward to the move, and this article just adds more excitement to my planning! Thank you, Barbara!
You’re very welcome, Bonnie. I hope you love Chattanooga as much as I do.
Love, love, love it here– “GIG City”: Fastest Internet in the US– Thank you very much! I enjoyed reading this blog but, not much is mentioned about the mountain regions of the area. Just a short drive up to around 2,100 elevation are some really beautiful places to hike, rock climb, hang-glide, bike or drive the lovely winding mountain roads– spectacular views! Most of Lookout Mountain is in NW Georgia. Actually, Rock City is located just over the Georgia state line. There’s just so much to see & do but, beware those dreaded Christians with Family Values and “Old Money Mountain People”….. Just twisting the knife “AR” & “Amanda”. Please always stay where you are; your kids can use the non-gender specific restrooms in your wonderful public schools that you pay dearly for & you’ll live happily ever after. That is until you have to answer for the life you’ve lived here on earth…… Oh well, GOD bless you anyway!