published Friday, March 25th, 2011

Chattanooga finds itself on dubious list

  • photo
    The skyline of downtown Chattanooga bathes in mid-evening sunlight.
    Staff File Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Chattanooga earned the dubious distinction this week of being named to the list of “20 Cities You Don’t Want to Live In ... Yet,” by CNBC’s Cindy Perman.

The list includes a few cities like Detroit and Flint, Mich., which are well-known for their high crime and swaths of abandoned buildings. But the feature also points to towns such as Indianapolis and Baltimore, cities that Chattanooga planners successfully emulated to bring the Scenic City up to par, said Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield.

“I’ve spent time in Flint and Detroit, and there’s really no comparison,” Littlefield said, though he’s proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Indianapolis.

Since 2003, Chattanooga has created more than 12,000 jobs and recruited 85 companies, activity that has continued through the recession, according to the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

Detroit, on the other hand, saw 25 percent of its residents leave the city over the past decade, according to the 2010 census.

Unlike some cities on the list, “people are voting with their feet and moving into Chattanooga,” Littlefield said. “It’s one of the fastest growing in Tennessee.”

But Chattanooga’s 7.8 percent gain in population from 2000 to 2010 was nearly 2 percentage points below the U.S. growth pace of 9.7 percent.

20 Cities You Don’t Want To Live In...Yet

• Detroit

• Flint, Mich.

• St. Louis, Mo.

• Cleveland, Ohio

• Birmingham, Ala.

• Jackson, Miss.

• Little Rock, Ark.

• Stockton, Calif.

• Dayton, Ohio

• Memphis

• New Haven, Conn.

• Baltimore

• Milwaukee, Wisc.

• Springfield, Mass.

• Buffalo, NY

• Fresno, Calif.

• New Orleans

• Indianapolis

• Chattanooga

• Oakland, Calif.

Source: CNBC

While the population gain was below average in Chattanooga, the city’s crime rate was more than double the national average even with a nearly one-third reduction over the past decade, according to figures used by CNBC to compile its list.

Chattanooga’s growth rate still was higher and its crime rate lower than Memphis — the only other Tennessee city on the CNBC list.

Chattanooga’s more modest growth rate in the past could be an advantage, according to Chamber of Commerce spokesman J. Ed. Marston.

“Do you want to wait and move to a boomtown after everybody else figures out it’s a boomtown?” he asked. “In my mind, Chattanooga is kind of an opportunity to get in on the ground floor. Smart investors don’t wait until everybody else has jacked up the price.”

The cost of living remains low in Chattanooga, the Chamber says, while job opportunities continue to expand from new arrivals Volkswagen and Amazon.

Meanwhile, old-line businesses like Alstom and Wacker continue to upgrade their operations and take on hundreds of highly skilled employees.

CNBC attributed Chattanooga’s presence on the list to a 7 percent drop in its economic output — measured by GDP — from 2008 to the end of 2009. CNBC also noted that Chattanooga “has a high crime rate.”

However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, GDP fell in 80 percent of U.S. metro areas during the recession, and cities often have higher crime rates than rural areas.

“The recession hit the United States pretty hard, so seeing that GDP drop, I don’t know what that means.” said Chris Daley, director of technology development and transfer at the Enterprise Center. “That was a couple of years ago. Now, we’re creating jobs and building a brand.”

Linda Bennett, executive director of Choose Chattanooga, said the city’s crime rate is a concern, as it is for any city.

“There’s always another challenge, but we have so much to be proud of,” Bennett said.

Businessman Emerson Russell, who runs a facilities management empire from his Chattanooga headquarters, said there’s no place he’d rather be than Chattanooga.

“I work in 38 different states around the country, and to me, Chattanooga is one of the best areas that I know to live in and work in,” Russell said. “I could find at least 100 more cities that are a whole lot worse.”

For developer Dale Mabee, the reason he loves Chattanooga is because of the opportunities that allow residents to live, work and play, grow up and grow old, all within the city limits.

“It gives me a chance to keep my children and grandchildren here locally,” he said.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.

J. Ed Marston does NOT ride his bicycle to work...Did Emerson Russell have a hand in beating Waddie Suttles to death in the old Chattanooga jail? And don't "boom towns" eventually go "bust"?

March 25, 2011 at 7:35 a.m.
rockman12 said...

It's time to deal with the crime problem if Chattanooga wants to get off the lists worst cities to live in. Chattanooga could be a beautiful place to live if the mayor and the city council were more focused on cleaning the city up (ie, gangs, drugs, blight, prostitution, etc) instead of trying to constantly expand it's borders by annexing everything around it. Time to change the priority list.

March 25, 2011 at 7:59 a.m.
Vguy said...

This city will never change until we rid the city of Mayor Littlefield and 80% of the city council. They are too worried about their own self-intrest and padding their pockets to worry about the citizens. Chattanooga is now ranked 8th in the most dangerious cities in the United States. So what do our city leaders do, they try and destroy the police department. Maybe the destruction of the police department and mistreatment of their officers have something to do with the crime rate, just a thought.

March 25, 2011 at 12:17 p.m.
MayGun said...

This article really displays irresponsible journalism it's like they reached out to anyone who is a part of the pr of this city. I love Chattanooga too but we all know it has it's problems hell they could of at least asked a city employee their feelings..ask a cop if he or she is being paid for all the extra duty in Coolidge..ask a firefighter about how the city cut their health benefits or someone living out of the gentrified areas. Or a west sider who can't afford healthy food and cab fare or the parents in Hill City excluded from Normal Park or my next door neighbor who has three kids and works two jobs.... aesthetics aren't everything either...for being such a beautiful city there still exists the awful truth of bad air quality and higher then normal levels of asthma. Residents of Alton Park have been diagnosed with all sorts of respiratory illnesses and cancers due to the chemicals leached into the air and ground water by companies like Velsicol..How about the lack of civic engagement..what was the turn out rate of the last mayoral election?...somewhere between 12% to 13% I love this place but it could be so much better and don't think its just crime holding us back.

March 25, 2011 at 1:23 p.m.
NoMyth said...

I don't think Chattanooga is one of the 20 worst cities to live in, but because most Chattanooga residents do not travel much and have lived here all of their lives they do not realize that there is dramatic room for improvement. Driving around the metro area, it is obvious that at least 30% of existing homes and buildings should be torn down.

March 25, 2011 at 2:35 p.m.
MayGun said...

I'm not talking about pollen.

Velsicol isn't the lone polluter here. We may be much cleaner then we were in the 70's but many of our pollutants have never been dealt with.

March 25, 2011 at 3:56 p.m.
skinemaxfan said...

Crime. That is the one thing holding us back. Our economy is growing, yet still transitional, but the crime rate is abysmal. This is one of the most beautiful cities in the country. It's truly a majestic setting, and one strategically placed for commerce of all kinds. Our cost of living stats are phenomenal, our higher education assets are present and improving, as are all general quality of life elements.... with the exception of maybe getting murdered or robbed, which is a big exception. I've lived in some of the 'darling' cities in these ratings, and I can honestly say that Chattanooga is like that bright, handsome, charming young person in everyones family who's vices get the better of him despite all efforts to make good. A few very bad apples are spoiling this town, and I hope that it someday realizes its potential. Crime and political corruption, which are really the same story on different sides of the track, are keeping us from being the next Portland or Asheville. No one wants to live an otherwise splendid life with a great job in a beautiful, vibrant city whose bliss is constantly interrupted by episodes violent crime , property theft, and embarrassingly corrupt political leadership. Our city will intrinsically create art and nurture cultural development, but we live in fear of a large criminal element. Still, we skimp on law enforcement and, for example, lavishly fund a superfluous government entity like EAC as if it was addressing our serious detriments. What we find ourselves with is a beautiful slum on a lottery-esque economic winning streak run by a self serving group of corrupt politicians who continue to squander our good fortune on cronyism and power plays for their political gain. With the right leadership, this town is poised for great success.

March 25, 2011 at 8:39 p.m.
mrredskin said...

as others have stated: fix the crime issue. then you have a top-tier city

March 25, 2011 at 8:58 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

One problem in this area is the good ol' boy network that keeps certain people in power in the local government. The difficulty of getting public records is extraordinary.

Another problem is the seriously bad public school system which is odd since Hamilton County has one of the highest per student cost in the state.

Add the lack of good building standards in the county (homes are still built to the 2003 International Residential Code even though the 2006, 2008, and 2009 code exist) and the crappy job done by the Hamilton County Building and Zoning department, you get a lower cost of living but also homes that may lose value.

Oh yeah, did I mention that there are still volunteer fire departments in the county even though there it seems that half of the county's population lives outside of the city limits?

I know more than a couple of people who moved here from other cities (including Detroit) to work at VW and are not happy at all with Chattanooga.

I grew up in this town and I love it here but there is definitely room for improvement.

March 25, 2011 at 10:34 p.m.
skinemaxfan said...


I completely agree with you on all points but the county building code. I actually think that the 03 code promotes affordable, reasonably priced housing in the area, which is probably one of the top 3 things that are remarkable about this area. Many of the aspects of the more stringent codes are superfluous to average home buyers yet raise the cost of housing significantly and cause a stigma of obsolescence for pre-code change construction which represents 99% 0f the market during the first decade of new codes. As energy costs increase, the construction norms will naturally progress at a linear pace. One of the best aspects of the Chatt housing market is the abundance affordable homes, old and new. If you think that one person or employer chooses not to move to this area because building code stringency, you are deluded. If we required green certification and/or structural disaster optimization in our code, new construction would stagnate and home prices would leave the unusually affordable range that we now enjoy. Homes loose value because people cant finance/afford them, not because of building codes being 7 years out of the most rigorous standard. Ask a real estate agent about the average knowledge of IRC code standards represented by an average prospective home buyer in this or any mild-climate/non-coastal market and you will get a good laugh. You made several good points, but you lost me on your idea for gutting our claim to affordable housing. Your evidence for our need for improvement is also ridiculous, as transplants to any average city will always experience 'fish out of water' syndrome during the first years of living in a new city (unless they moved from Detroit). Anyone wishing to own a home adhering to a certain building code can always build one to that standard or modify an existing home to that standard. Changing codes simply elevates prices and building standards to the tastes of an elite minority of home buyer and alienates the majority of the market. If you want to see the vast majority of homes loose value, make a dramatic code change. Houses aren't like iPods, as perceived obsolesce doesn't lead to a revitalized market.

March 25, 2011 at 11:11 p.m.
MasterChefLen said...

Get rid of Mayor Littlefield and his rubber stamp city council. This would be a giant step in the right direction.

March 26, 2011 at 3:45 p.m.
bpqd said...

You know what all 20 of those cities have in common? A low tolerance for financial crime.

March 27, 2011 at 8:30 a.m.
SavartiTN said...

skinemaxfan---Do you know any of the differences between the 2003 and 2006 IRC? Do you know what the IRC is? I'll give you a couple of examples of changes that are important for anyone building a home here.

1) The 2006 IRC spells out that drywall cannot be used behind ceramic tile in shower stalls. You would think that builders would know better but the 2003 code is vague about this so guess what builders do? The ANSI and ASTM has said since 1999 not to do this but the county inspectors do not inspect for this since it is not in the code currently in use.

2) The 2006 IRC also clears up the issue of mechanical ventilation (i.e. bathroom fans) exhausting to the exterior. Most builders in this area will terminate to the attic. This is bad for the homeowner as far as moisture buildup goes.

Recently, the new Director of Hamilton County's Building and Zoning Department and I had a two hour conversation about updating the code. Why would this be important?

As it stands, right now, a builder can put drywall behind your tile shower and ventilate bathroom fans to your attic. We live in an area prone to mold. Mold grows in your house and renders it unmarketable. Homes that become unmarketable lower the County tax base.

Trust me, word gets around. People start asking "Who built this house?" They avoid those homes. Tax base and home value starts plummeting.

People that move here from other cities are appalled at the way our homes are built.

As for my experience...I bought a new home built by a contractor with the initials DW. Turns out my house foundation was built below the water table, has had several water leaks ergo mold, and is now has an unmarketable title.

Would it had helped me if the county had not issued the Certificate of Occupancy since all of the inspections had not been performed?

Therefore, I maintain my position about the crappy building codes and job done by the code enforcers.

March 27, 2011 at 6:07 p.m.
inquiringmind said...

Chattanooga is run by a group of at best paternalistic good old boys who go to parties and talk about which school they went to, though the don't mean college but prep school. To folks who just came here, the embarrassment of Littlefield, particularly his first run for mayor, is too much. And the county commission reminds me of a bunch of "Hanks" surrounding one or two really good people.

The very fact that of the problems at College Park shows there is a real problem in the city. This town could be really great but it needs to get serious about its governmental professionalism.

March 29, 2011 at 7:03 a.m.
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