published Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Chattanooga among smartest cities in National Geographic top 50 list of ideas, trends, innovators

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    Aerial of downtown Chattanooga shows the intersection of U.S. Highway 27 and M.L. K ing Boulevard.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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Poll
Do you think Chattanooga is a smart city?

Yes, Chattanooga's zippy Internet sped it onto a new worldwide smart-and-hip list.

But if all Gig City had to show for itself were that -- or even that and, say, swanky hotels -- it never would have gotten on National Geographic Traveler's top 50 list of ideas, trends and innovators.

The Scenic City part of Chattanooga mattered, too.

"They all had to be things relevant to travelers and that fit into the Nat Geo wheelhouse," according to Amy Alipio, an associate editor with National Geographic Traveler magazine. "Chattanooga's mix of tech savvy and urban revitalization definitely fits the bill."

So does its creativity (think about the Chatype typeface) and preservation (need we say trails, rocks, rivers?).

It's all "authentic to its DNA," Alipio said.

The magazine's "2014 Traveler 50: World's Smartest Cities," in the October issue, lays out Chattanooga like this:

"Techies call Chattanooga 'Gig City' for its lightning-fast Internet. But what do locals do when not digitizing? They bike and hike along the revitalized Riverwalk path, part of a $250 million reinvention along the banks of the Tennessee."

Joda Thongnopnua of WayPaver, the innovation and recruitment arm of Chattanooga's Lamp Post Group, said the magazine recognition is another example that the world is watching Chattanooga.

"It's really exciting, but it means we have a lot of responsibility to deliver on the promises that the gig lays out," he said.

Chattanooga got its Gig City nickname from being the nation's first to offer citywide Internet speeds of 1 gigabit per second, probably 100 times faster than what most computer clickers get.

"For our city to continue to move in that direction and still be on those lists in five years, we have to able to continue to invest money not only in that digital infrastructure but in our education infrastructure," Thongnopnua said.

National Geographic is the most recent in string of publications with broad reach anointing Chattanooga a star of something or another. Outside magazine called it the "best town ever" several years ago. The New York Times named it one of "45 places to go in 2012." U.S News & World Report named it one of six cities worldwide that "work at creating great urban experiences."

"It really is about quality of life, appreciating the natural environment," said Kim White, president of River City Company, a nonprofit downtown development group. "Having a freshwater aquarium, having a climbing wall in the heart of downtown."

Other cities in the magazine's annual top 50 include perennial greats like Rome (noted for the post-restoration opening of its Colosseum) and Paris (noted for its bike-share program). Others are unexpected: Kentucky's Paducah (named a UNESCO City of Crafts and Folk Art) and Lexington (accolades for its urban park and reinvented arts district).

A handful of other U.S. cities -- Dallas, New York, San Francisco and Aspen, Colo. -- got mentions, but Chattanooga was one of only a few with a standalone description.

"We have a lot to offer in the business sense and economic development sense and in the housing sense -- we have really affordable housing," said Sharyn Moreland, director of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center. "Plus we've got the rivers and mountains, there's good weather. It's really a cool city."

Contact staff writer Mitra Malek at mmalek@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406.

about Mitra Malek...

Mitra Malek writes about business, with a focus on the Chattanooga area's tech, small business and entrepreneurial communities, as well as tourism. Before coming to the Times Free Press, she was a staff writer for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Tampa Bay Business Journal, Journal Inquirer and Palm Beach Post. She has covered local and national politics, government, international trade, a state cancer cluster investigation and real estate growth and economic development, among other subjects. Her reporting ...

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