Hard-Earned Lessons, Good Grounding for the City Accelerator

The former mayor of the “Most Transformed City” in America is going to help chronicle civic innovation through the City Accelerator.
June 3, 2014 AT 9:50 PM
By Ron Littlefield  |  Senior Fellow
Ron Littlefield, a former mayor of Chattanooga, Tenn., is a senior fellow with the Governing Institute and its lead analyst on the City Accelerator initiative. A city planner by career, he also consults to government through Littlefield Associates.

During his 19 years as an anchor for CBS News, Walter Cronkite was affectionately dubbed “the most trusted man in America,” so it was particularly damning when Cronkite gave Chattanooga its own nickname during a segment on air pollution: the “dirtiest city in America.”

That was in 1969. Now, more than 40 years later, Chattanooga has transformed itself into a city that regularly places in the Top 10 most progressive and livable cities.

As a city planner, economic development professional and local government leader, it has been my privilege to be involved in various capacities as Chattanooga wrestled itself out of the doldrums and difficulties of being a “rust belt city in the South” to something of a star in the worldwide game of urban enterprise.

How did Chattanooga bounce from these two extremes?

We did it boldly by stealing ideas from cities such as yours and implementing them with our own style and spin. Occasionally we ventured into unknown territory, investing in battery-powered buses or citywide fiber optics.

In the 1980s, we were one of the first cities to try “visioning” as a way to set goals, solve problems and break away from the status quo of thinking that nothing could change.

We made a commitment to quality of life despite the old captains of local industry being invested in industries that caused pollution. We became a Tree City USA Community, reclaimed and revitalized our downtown and riverfront, and implemented a bike share program ahead of other large cities. This transformation created opportunities for environmentally friendly economic development, like Volkswagen’s billion-dollar Platinum LEED certified plant.

The experience gave me, among other things, a hard-earned in-depth understanding of the challenges local governments face and the inspiration needed for innovation. I’m excited to have this opportunity to collaborate on this new adventure to spark innovation and accelerate your future achievements.

It is that perspective that I bring to this aptly named blog, Innovation Perspectives,  to help chronicle the important work of the City Accelerator, a competition to find and help up to nine cities with innovative ideas and programs achieve their goals. As this 18-month journey begins, I am excited to be part of this vital conversation about civic innovation.  And I really want to have you be part of the conversation too.  Please feel free to contact me here.

Be part of the campaign for civic innovation at the City Accelerator, presented by Citi Foundation.