When the Pumps Run Dry

I’m a child of the 70’s. I remember the 1973 Arab oil embargo. Lines at gasoline stations ran for blocks and industrious entrepreneurs made money by babysitting cars in line while their owners went to work. Our family didn’t suffer too much. My brother and I walked to school. Dad rode a 10-speed to work. Mom ran her business from home and the grocery store was a 1/2 mile away.


Gasoline line, 1973


So news of potential gasoline shortages this week, due to the Helena, Alabama pipeline leak, didn’t disturb me too much. My husband filled up his tank on the weekend and I work downtown. We can carpool to work. During the work day, we can both ride the bus, walk or grab a bike share bicycle to get where we need to be, albeit with a little time management and perspiration.

Few people in our region have all of those options. Panicked commuters are topping off their gas tanks and more gasoline pumps are bagged than not. It’s shades of 1973 all over again.

We should view this hiccup as a wake-up call.

During the Thrive 2055 planning process, we learned that people in our region drive almost 1,800 more miles per year than the average driver in the U.S.* Less than 1% of our region’s population uses transit and Chattanooga celebrated three years ago when it had more than 1% of commuters bicycling for transportation. We are overly dependent on our gasoline-powered personal vehicles to get around.


Colonial Pipeline is working overtime to bypass the leak, which spilled between 252,000 and 336,000 gallons of gasoline into a retention pond. ABC News reports that in a wet  year, the pond might not have had the capacity to hold the gasoline and it could have spilled into the nearby Cahaba River, causing an environmental disaster for one of Alabama’s natural treasures.

So what can we do? Honestly, this might be an opportunity to carpool, walk, ride the bus or a use combination of all three. I, personally, am taking advantage of high-speed internet to telecommute.

Not all of us can take advantage of our region’s alternative transportation options. However, enough of us can adjust our habits to make room for people who have no other choice. Colonial expects to have the gasoline flowing north again on Wednesday. In the meantime, why not try something new?

*Thrive 2055 Trends and Forces Report, p. 28

Testing Electric Car Share

Self-driving cars, smart intersections, car sharing, electric vehicles. . . only five years ago these personal transportation options seemed too far in the future to impact our region today. But for the past few weeks, Thrive 2055 staffer Ruthie Thompson has been among a group of people who have been beta testers for Chattanooga’s new electric car share system: Green Commuter.  Below is what happens when a vehicular Luddite tries a new technology for the first time.


Green Commuter Chattanooga’s Nissan Leaf

I love cars; small, zippy, five-speed cars that you can rip around mountain roads on a crisp, fall day. I love nothing better than a 1.8-liter inline four on a light chassis that responds to a gentle nudge of the steering wheel and a quick double clutch.

So when I was given the opportunity to beta test Chattanooga’s new electric car share system, I was skeptical. Surely, these electrics could not be as much fun as my ’93 Miata. And surely, a Nissan Leaf would not go up and down our region’s mountainous terrain without sucking all the life out of the batteries and leaving me stranded on the side of the road.

What a surprise then to find that on my first test drive I came down Walden’s Ridge with MORE battery power than I went up with. And I had a blast. How did that happen?

Green Commuter Chattanooga, which is scheduled to open to the public this fall, is basically a short-term car rental. Leafs are parked at electric charging stations at locations in downtown Chattanooga and other regional hubs like the Chattanooga Airport and Southern Adventist University in Collegedale. The cars are available for hourly rentals 24/7. The whole rental process, from registration to check-in, is done through your smartphone.


“Smokey” Hooked up to his charger.

I began my first beta test at the Shuttle Park South (Chattanooga Choo-Choo) station in downtown Chattanooga. After finding the cars and figuring out how to disconnect Smokey (yes, they have names) from the charger and then figuring out how to unlock the car with my phone, my husband and I took our seats, ready to experience the beautiful summer day in a brand new electric car! The dialogue went like this.

Me: “How do you turn it on?”

Hubby: “Push the button.”

Me: “Which button?”

Hubby: “The one by the steering wheel that looks like a computer switch.”

I pushed the button and the dashboard lit up. Hooray, it was time to go! Or not.

Me: Wiggling the gear knob back and forth, “how do you put it in reverse?”

Hubby: “I don’t know, let me try.” He wiggles the gear knob back and forth. Nothing.

This went on for about five minutes, wiggling the knob back and forth between park, neutral, drive and reverse, looking in the glove compartment for instructions, looking online for instructions and still nothing.

Hubby: “Try turning it on and off again.”

I do, and voila, the dashboard lights up like a computer game and the car sings a little “bing, binga, binga, bing” song. Turns out that you have to hit the “on” switch twice before the car is really on.

We found reverse, carefully and silently backed out of our parking spot and then headed toward a mountain.


The Nissan Leaf EV NISMO RC race car prototype. Courtesy of Car and Driver.

There is a secret that I probably should not tell you: the Nissan Leaf drives like a mid-engine sports car, but without the vibration and noise that’s produced by an internal combustion engine. Because the heavy battery pack sits right under the cabin, the weight distribution gives the car almost perfect handling, which is good, because without sensory input from engine noise it is very, very easy to speed.

When we headed up Signal Mountain, the car sucked power like a vacuum, but it also handled the curvy road with ease. Coming down the hill, with regenerative braking and coasting, we were pleased that the Leaf regained all of the power that it had lost going up and a little more.

Between using Eco mode and power regeneration, we came back from our 20-mile drive with only 15 miles of the car’s range used. The cost would have been about $10 for an hour. A later beta test charged us $27 for two and a half hours.


The new electric car share is just one more mobility option for commuters who are tired of congested interstates. It will now be feasible to take the bus or carpool to work and have an option available for an emergency trip to the kids’ school, or a scheduled doctor’s appointment.

Electric cars are here to stay. A new MIT study says that electric vehicles are capable of replacing 87% of the conventional vehicles in the market right now. Those would be the personal vehicles that we all use to commute back and forth to our jobs and schools, with just overnight charging.

If this changeover from conventional to electric were to happen right now, the study concludes that it would immediately cut U.S. gasoline consumption by 60% and our carbon emissions by 30%.

Making this changeover a reality right now is impossible, due to lack of available electric cars on the market. But ten years from now, it could be feasible. This spring, Ford Motor Company announced a new division called Ford Smart Mobility, founded to research and produce mobility options beyond the motorcar that made automobiles a commodity a century ago. Tesla and Chevrolet are going head-to-head to bring an affordable, long-range electric to the masses in 2017. And closer to home, Volkswagen says that they will be building electric cars in America by 2020.


Chevy’s new Bolt has a promised range of 238 miles.

Green Commuter is just one more drop in a wave of technology that will change transportation in ways that have not happened since Henry Ford’s Model T first left the production line. As a region, we have the chance to use technology and develop a sustainable transportation system before our roads and air become so congested that we have no other choice.

Besides, we all might have some fun at the same time.

Green Commuter Chattanooga officially launched on September 13, 2016 with a ceremonial plug-in at Hamilton Place Mall. Expect stations to be stocked with cars within two to three weeks.




A Challenge to the Region’s Students: Design the High School of the Future!

Beginning this September, Thrive 2055 and Bright Spark will ask teams of middle and high school students from around the tristate, 16-county region, to design the high school of the future. With their teachers as guides, students will engage in a collaborative process to design a school that uses new ideas about teaching and learning, makes the most of emerging technologies, and emphasizes creativity.  Registration is open until August 18, 2016. To learn more, email Ruthie Thompson at Thrive 2055.

Throughout the school year, the student teams will engage in virtual coaching sessions with designers, reach out to their communities for input, and build a prototype for the school of 2055 or beyond.

So how different could that classroom be?  Think about what classrooms were like 20, 40, even 100 years ago.

The classroom below could have been my grandfather’s, in Illinois, about 1915.



In 1945, when my father was in 8th grade, the cutting edge communications technology was radio.


(We’re wondering where the kid got his shiner.)

In 1955, educational programming was just emerging on a new medium: television.


This is what my high school classroom looked like in 1975, 40 years ago. In this class, we still used sliderules. Electronic calculators were considered cheating.


The classes I took 40 years ago were English, History, Latin II, Geometry, Art, Chemistry, Home Economics and Typing. The year I took typing, the school had just invested in new electric typewriters.

So how much difference do 40 years make? The curriculum has not changed much, but technology has.


In 2015 tablets have replaced typewriters, the blackboard is gone, but it looks like you can still get stuck in your desk if you get up too fast.

What will a classroom look like 10 years from now?


Twenty years from now?


What about 2055? 40 years from now?

Will we need desks?


Will we need walls?


Or even buildings? The design below is a portable, self-powering classroom that can be moved to locations that need it.


This is why we are asking the talented young people of today to design the school of tomorrow. How do we change the region’s education paradigm so that our citizens are ready for the future?

During the process, the design challenge teams will learn creative skills that will help them navigate the rapidly changing job market in our region today.

“Designers collaborate, innovate, empathize, experiment and come at difficult challenges with critical thinking and creativity,” says Jenny Whitener, founder of Bright Spark. “These skills are hugely important for our students and teachers, as they search for ways to thrive in a technologically-rich creative economy.”

We do not know what the future holds, but Thrive 2055 is deeply committed to reaching beyond today and helping our region’s teachers and students succeed.

We’re really looking forward to what they come up with.






Jenni’s Bucket List

When most people compile their life bucket list, they include things like, “drive a racecar,” “visit the Taj Mahal” or “dance the tango.” For Jenni Frankenberg Veal, a freelance writer with a passion for the outdoors, top on the bucket list was seeing a big, brown, bottom feeding salamander. And last week during a snorkel trip on the Hiwassee River in Polk County, Jenni checked off her item.


Jenni Frankenberg Veal (3rd from right) poses with the Hiwassee Hellbender Club.

Jenni and several other folks from the Polk County Chamber of Commerce, Thrive 2055, the Cleveland-Bradley Chamber of Commerce, National Park Service and McKee Foods joined the National Forest Service for a guided snorkel trip on the Hiwassee.

The snorkel trips, which are also offered on Citico Creek and the Conasauga River, give us land lubbers a rare glimpse into the extraordinarily rich and colorful world that lies under the surface of our region’s fresh water streams.

“We saw a Hellbender!” crowed Jenni, giddy as she slogged out of the river shallows in a dripping wetsuit. “We actually saw two!”


The Hiwassee Hellbender

Young Ethan Bullock, a trip participant with sharp, 10-year-old eyes, had spotted a juvenile Hellbender, only 4 inches long. He set the tiny creature in his snorkel mask for some pictures and then released it back to the river bottom.


File Jul 25, 4 28 53 PM

Seeing a Hellbender in its native habitat is worthy of a bucket list item. Seeing two, especially a young one, is almost impossible. Though reaching up to two feet in length, the reclusive salamanders hang out on river bottoms and closely resemble the rocks that they hide under. Seeing one in the wild requires stealth and a very sharp eye.

Hellbenders are also becoming rare, even in the rich waters of our tristate region. According to a recent National Geographic article, the salamander, which is native only to the eastern U.S., has been slipping quietly away since the 1980’s. And populations in the northeast and in the Ozarks are declining to the point of endangerment.

“Unlike a lot of other salamanders, [hellbenders] breathe entirely through their skin,” says Kim Terrell, Conservation Biologist with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., in the National Geographic article. As a result, Hellbenders require cold, clean water in which to live. The peaceful creatures are extremely vulnerable to silt and pollutants that disturb their pristine environment.

File Jul 25, 4 28 19 PM

So it is good news that Jenni Veal and Ethan Bullock spotted two Hellbenders in the Hiwassee River, which is fed from the clear springs and creeks of the Cherokee National Forest. For our region’s future, the Hellbender could be considered an indicator species. If we do a good job planning how our communities develop, the big, brown salamander and his river cousins will thrive. If we grow with disregard for our natural treasures, especially those that we don’t see every day, then Jenni’s treasure might be lost forever.


To learn more about the Cherokee National Forest’s guided snorkel trips on Citico Creek and the Hiwassee and Conasauga Rivers, read Jenni Frankenberg Veal’s story in Nooga.com.


“Connectography” – Our Region’s Place in the World

Thrive 2055 invites you to take inspiration from a recent New York Times article by global strategist Parag Khanna, about what he calls, “connectography,” his method of looking at the world’s geography as a network of connected infrastructure.


The cover of Parag Khanna’s new book, Connectography

As Mr. Khanna writes about his view of our changing global society, he identifies issues that Thrive 2055 knows will affect the future of our comparatively small tristate, 16-county region:

  • Disconnection of small cities and rural areas from the national and global economy
  • The need to develop our infrastructure beyond local and state boundaries
  • The constraints put upon our local, state and federal governments to work on a regional level

Parag Khanna

He also identifies some of the same priorities for action that our planning initiative identified, specifically, linking our urban centers through better highways, railways and fiber-optic networks, as well as thinking strategically to place transportation and digital hubs in line with global and national corridors.

“To make these things happen requires thinking beyond states,” writes Khanna. “Washington currently provides minimal support for regional economic efforts and strategies; it needs to go much further, even at the risk of upsetting established federal-state political balances.”

Public-private financial partnerships, like some that are already happening in our region, are one of Khanna’s solutions for breaking the political chokeholds that strangle our country’s ability to improve our infrastructure.

A new Chattanooga-based business accelerator, Dynamo, is offering financial incentives for 10 new logistics startups to drive the Chattanooga region toward technological solutions for dangerous freight congestion on our aging and underfunded public roads.


Logistics accelerator, Dynamo.

Local developer John Thornton established his own internet service provider to connect his Jasper Highlands community across the Tennessee state line to the North Alabama Electric Cooperative’s new high speed fiber network. Thornton’s bold move bypassed political inertia in Nashville and he has expressed interest in expanding his services throughout Marion County.

Our region has already been identified as a leader in leveraging our natural treasures for economic development, and Khanna specifically mentions how better connectivity could position the entire Southeast as an agricultural and ecotourism hub.

“Upgraded transportation corridors between New York, Washington and Atlanta could finally lift Appalachia’s isolated and stagnant towns stretching from New York to Alabama by facilitating investment in farms and vineyards, food processing and eco-tourism.”

Khanna emphasizes that the United States has succeeded in the past to identify, fund and build networks that facilitate a prosperous future.  “Congress was once a world leader in TVA_regionregional planning,” he writes. Khanna cites the Tennessee Valley Authority as a positive example of the “federal government’s thinking about economic development at continental scale.”

The 80-year-old big idea that became TVA now connects our 16- county region and beyond, and defines a way of life that we treasure. The Tennessee River Valley provides us with cheap power for home and industry, a vital commercial and conservation corridor and thousands of acres of protected lands on which to play.

As Thrive 2055 moves forward to connect our region to the rest of the world, engaging the voices of our communities to take bold actions and forge unique partnerships will always be our priority. By doing so, we hope that 40, 60 and 80 years in the future, our region will be one with clean water, verdant mountains, sustainable industry and an educated population that has access to assets that will ensure their prosperity.

Parag Khanna is a leading global strategist, world traveler, and best-selling author. He is a CNN Global Contributor and Senior Research Fellow in the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He is also the Managing Partner of Hybrid Reality, a boutique geostrategic advisory firm, and Co-Founder & CEO of Factotum, a leading content branding agency.

The Six-Minute Choice

Traffic on Missionary Ridge

-By Bridgett Massengill, Thrive 2055 Project Manager

Today I made a choice. Each weekday I commute to work from the rural outskirts of northeastern Hamilton County into downtown Chattanooga. I wrestle stampeding 18-wheelers and congestion through the I-75/I-24 split and the Missionary Ridge cut. Traveling by interstate, it can take me between a half to a full hour to get to work or get home to my husband and children, depending on traffic.

But today I took a different route. I took the side roads, the back roads, the city streets. I meandered through neighborhoods, by churches and playgrounds. At the time, my choice seemed risky, a secret, selfish move that would keep me from the task list on my desk. But like a child sneaking a cookie, I relished every moment of those side roads and arrived to work refreshed.

When I looked at my watch I discovered that my choice had cost me six minutes. Six minutes.


The six minute choice.

Were those six minutes valuable to me? Not as valuable as my state of mind, shed of the stressing traffic on the interstate. The office didn’t fall apart. And truthfully, I can make this choice any time, simply by leaving the house six minutes earlier.

Can you choose your route to work? Can you take an extra three, six or 10 minutes to reduce your blood pressure and get reacquainted with our region’s rural and urban landscapes? As one who has made that choice, I highly recommend giving the side roads a try.

Thrive 2055 is all about choices. By looking ahead 40 years, we can work together to ensure our children and grandchildren can choose their routes, receive a good education, work in jobs that adequately support and enrich them and have the quality of life they deserve.

So, what choices can you make?
If you venture out and take a side road route on your commute, tell us about it!

HOW? Choices for Commuters:google_nav
There are tons of free and low cost smartphone apps that can help you avoid traffic and make your commute less stressful. Here are our picks.
• Bridgett used a free smartphone app called WAZE. It uses GPS tracking and crowd sourced reports to find traffic jams and help you avoid them.
Google Maps gives you the option to avoid highways, take transit, a bicycle or walk. Hint: often the avoid highways option only takes an extra five or 10 minutes, depending on traffic.
• In Chattanooga, the Transit App, also free, shows you how to get around town by using CARTA busses the free downtown shuttle, Uber and Bike Chattanooga. It even pinpoints the location of your next bus; and CARTA busses have free Wi-Fi.
• Reward yourself: if you choose to carpool, telecommute, take the bus, bike or walk to work, Green Trips Chattanooga offers incentives. They also offer incentive programs through employers.
What apps do you use?

What is Your River Story?

Dr. Anna George, Director and Chief Research Scientist for the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI), serves on the Thrive 2055 Natural Treasures Initiative. Below is an excerpt of her remarks at the announcement of a new TNACI facility to be constructed along the Tennessee River on Moccasin Bend.

Photos courtesy of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute.
Photo of Tangerine Darter (above) courtesy of Todd Stailey.


TNACI campers do a stream sampling.

What is your river story?

Every year, the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute begins our summer camp for teens by asking them this question. What called them to explore our waters? If they don’t know the answer at the beginning of the week, you can bet they have an answer by the time they snorkel the Conasauga River on the last day.

For more than two decades the Tennessee Aquarium has showcased river stories from our region to more than 20 million people. The truly special moments are when we create a personal connection between our visitors, our exhibits, and each other. Maybe it’s standing in front of the minnows and remembering how you used to seine them for bait as a child. Or maybe it’s a reminder of a camping trip in the Cherokee National Forest. The Aquarium isn’t just a place to learn more about aquatic animals. It’s a place to connect to our stories, and remember the places that fill us with wonder.

Dr. Anna George in her favorite habitat.

Dr. Anna George in her favorite habitat.

One of the things I love about working here in Chattanooga, between the Appalachians and the Cumberlands, is the strong sense of place our community has. This land has been loved by people for a very long time, people who understand that our rivers and our ridges matter, both to our health and the health of the environment

A Conasauga River Logperch

A Conasauga Logperch from the Conasauga River in Tennessee.

The waters around us are teeming with life, that life has incredible value, and that life matters to us. So, we must act to protect it.

We are in a watershed moment; a time when we know our freshwater habitats face unprecedented threats; a time when we risk the loss of so much that matters to us. And in this moment, our community has stood up to proclaim that our river matters, our mountains matter, and our region matters.

We stand here today ready to begin the next chapter of the Aquarium’s story, and that of our community. We are compelled to make our next meaningful contribution to protecting our rivers and streams by constructing a permanent home for the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, opening in fall, 2016.


Rendering of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute’s new home.

Our new building will serve as a convening place, a freshwater field station, a training ground and an educational classroom. It will also serve as the base of operations where those working to protect our natural treasures can come together to act. A place where we will expand our work returning native animals back to their homes in healthy streams and rivers. A place that highlights water-sensitive design. A place where we will raise national awareness that the waters of the Southeast are filled with riches, and that our quality of life matters.

Our place matters. Our work matters. This building matters.
But our community, both above and below the water, matters most.

What part of our regional waters do you cherish the most? What is your river story? 

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