THE REVIVAL: Chattanooga's surrounded by mountains and rivers, but like so many manufacturing towns, it turned its back on its natural assets. In the mid-'60s, the city went from industrial boom to rusting bust when local steelmakers and foundries closed their doors, leaving a decrepit, nearly abandoned downtown and a community in dire need of an aesthetic and economic overhaul.
The Tennessee River flows through town, and urban renewal in the '90s centered on a total do-over of the nearly nonexistent waterfront, including construction of an aquarium and ten-mile river walk; 2002 saw $120 million invested in, among other things, a pedestrian pier, free public boat slips, and the new Renaissance Park, on the North Shore. "That's the Chattanooga way," says forester Gene Hyde of the community-driven overhaul. The Greenspaces program will invest $2 million over three years to transform downtown condos, offices, and shops into LEED-certified buildings; the Take Root project recruits locals to plant some 2,000 trees in the urban forest; and there are plans to develop 100 miles of singletrack within ten miles of Chattanooga by 2010. All of which has remade downtown into a live/work/play crossroads with half a dozen parks, a new organic grocer, and the annual Riverbend music festival, which spans nine days and six stages.
THE LIFE: The much-revered Tennessee Wall serves up year-round trad climbing, and mountain bikers flock to Raccoon Mountain both just a few minutes from downtown. Chattanooga's best carbo load comes compliments of Aretha Frankensteins, an all-day pancake joint in the up-and-coming North Shore district.
THE WORD ON THE STREET: CHATTANOOGA
"A very scenic, very happening, and very easy place to live, with unlimited options for climbing, caving, biking, hiking, and paddling."