This is my take on: Where I stand
Let me introduce you to a community visioning initiative for the Chattanooga region. It is called Chattanooga Stand and I would like to encourage you to take their survey. If you care in the least what the area you live in will look like in a few years, you should make sure your voice is heard. The Chattanooga Metropolitan area will undergo a big transformation in the near future. The industries which have decided to invest here – Volkswagen and Wacker Chemie for instance – will most likely change our region more than most of us can imagine. That’s why I am convinced that initiatives like Chattanooga Stand are important. Taking the survey won’t take long. Just do it. Others have done it, too. You can read about their motivation here and here.
This is why I want to present some of the factors that compelled me to get involved.
I grew up in Weilheim, a small town in Southern Bavaria. That’s the biggest state in Germany, for those of you not familiar with European geography. Just like Tennessee, Bavaria has been a rather conservative region with a strong emphasis on values, traditions and religion. But Bavaria also has a very monocultural way of doing politics – on a state and on a communal level. One political party (the CSU) basically has kept a stronghold in state and county administrations for more than four decades. Action committees have traditionally always emerged from groups that consider themselves more liberal than the CSU, therefore carrying the stigma of not being represented by a majority of Bavarian voters. Which brings my to Chattanooga Stand. In this particular case it does not matter what side of the aisle you’re from. If you live in or around Chattanooga, you care about what’s going on, right?
So do I. I may not be an American citizen (yet), but I live here and I am proud to call this my family’s home. My wife, our first daughter and I moved to Cleveland, TN from Munich in July of 2004. When we picked Southeast Tennessee as our new home we thought that this area will only serve as a starting point for our American life. Having lived in a major European city we could not imagine to make Smalltown USA our home. Other big cities were on our list to move to in the future.
Well, almost five years have passed and we’re still here. We have a second daughter now, our first “born in the U.S.A.” child. My hair is turning gray (much to the delight of my wife). And we are growing roots here. Not because we have been too lazy to pack our stuff again and move on. It is because we like it here. More than I would have ever thought we would.
However, you will never find me saying that the U.S. are better then Germany or that Germany is better than America. Still, there are certain characteristics to the Chattanooga area that we feel make our lives as a family a lot nicer here.
Take cost of living, for instance. Our five bedroom/three bathroom, 2,600 sq.ft. house (that’s 240 square meters for all you metric addicts like me) cost roughly $180,000 when we bought it in 2004. Apart from the fact that you can barely find a house that size on a lot as big as ours in central Munich, you simply cannot afford to buy real estate on this scale where we lived in Germany. At least not if you are on an average income level. Even in my small hometown a house that size would have cost us more than $500k. So, I guess it’s fair to say: In terms of housing we upgraded quite a bit by moving.
Although we live in a rather rural area we never feel left out. Sure, this is no New York, Atlanta, San Francisco or Chicago. But for urbanites like me Chattanooga is my saving grace. Where else would I go for parks, shopping, dining, events? And I admit: At first, we would always drive to Atlanta when we missed this special city feeling. We still do, once in a while. But I discovered that Chattanooga has so much more to offer than what most people see during their first visits. Of course there are all the obvious sites: Hunter Museum, TN Aquarium and the Choo Choo (which, btw, is probably the one thing most Germans will associate Chattanooga with).
Just this past weekend I was once again reminded of the charme and the beauty of the North Shore. City living doesn’t get much nicer than that. Or take the downtown area which seems to improve year after year. Or the still rough-around-the-edges charme of the Southside. Having read about Chattanooga’s history in the second half of the 20th century I realize what an enormous effort it must have been to revitalize this city and to make it what is today. It took people with a vision to accomplish that. And it will again take people who are engaged in our communities to shape the future of this city and its surroundings.
Let me reiterate the word surroundings. With VW at Enterprise South and Wacker Chemie in Bradley County our future is not only within the Chattanooga city limits (which are about to change, I hear). Chattanooga will remain the nexus, but its neighbors will be affected by the impending transformation just as much. In that regard Bradley County and Cleveland are Chattanooga’s closest neighbors with I-75 becoming the ever more important arterial connection. Most of our future German friends and fellow citizens will move into this area. We should start to get ready for them. Let me quote Bradley County School board Chairman David Kelley who recently said: “We are becoming a world community. We need to be thinking like a world community.”
And I’d like to add: Let’s start acting like one.
Chattanooga Stand allows all of us to be the difference we want to see happening. Staying silent is not an option. Some of us may not like what the majority will consider the most pressing issues. But that’s democracy. Only if you make yourself heard, you’ll get a chance to influence the debate and the decisions.
My family and I have grown to love it here. There are many positives and also quite some negatives. No place is perfect. But we can at least try to get the Chattanooga Metro Area even closer to becoming the ideal place to live.