Chattanooga will become the first National Park City in the United States, Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly told the Kiwanis Club of East Brainerd on Friday.
The global National Park City movement claims only two cities worldwide in its family - London, England, and Adelaide, Australia.
Mayor Kelly said a more detailed parks master plan will be announced closer to Earth Day next month.
The mayor asked the group, What does Chattanooga have that other cities can’t copy or do better?
“For us, it’s greenspace,” he said. “Look out the window.” He said in the coming months Chattanooga will begin “doubling down” on parks and the outdoors and breathe new life into Outdoor Chattanooga.
Mayor Kelly said conservation and enjoying the outdoors is one of the first lines of defense in combating the mental health and addiction crisis in Chattanooga.
“The best and simplest antidote is to get outside,” he said.
He said he’s also charging city director of community health Dr. Mary Lambert to establish a city clinic for mental and emotional health, probably at Eastgate Mall, and add satellite clinics around it throughout the city. Mayor Kelly said current local efforts are disjointed, TennCare health insurance can’t keep up and Council for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services (CADAS) is “booked solid.”
Mayor Kelly said mental illness and addiction are keeping people homeless in Chattanooga.
“It’s the visible evidence,” he said, though he said his efforts have housed 2,000 homeless people since he took office, he said.
It’s a logical jump to Chattanooga’s fentanyl drug overdose problem.
“It’s a plague,” Mayor Kelly said. “It’s terrible. I can’t imagine someone picking up a pill and taking it without knowing what’s in it.” He said local efforts will begin to meet national efforts as they trickle down.
City governments across the country are enjoying a new season of power, he said, and are eager to fix the machinery of local government, which is “not in great shape,” he said. It’s up to local government to solve local people’s problems, he stated.
“If we can’t, I worry,” he said.
Chattanooga’s gaps between rich and poor, black and white are too great, he said, and are a telltale sign of the poor health of local government.
“Really we’ve got to build the whole middle class, across the country,” he said. He said he and Mayor Weston Wamp see “100 percent eye-to-eye" that workforce development and education will work hand in hand to do this in Chattanooga.
“We get along fine,” he said. “I enjoy his youth and enthusiasm and I think he enjoys my Dad jokes.”
First, they want to bring more jobs to Chattanooga. Second, they want to fill those jobs with local people who have been educated for those positions. Third, they want to curb “rampant speculation” of out-of-state buyers, who drive up prices to undermine affordable housing.
“None of the money is staying here,” Mayor Kelly said. He said he doesn’t have a problem with accessory dwellings and homestay Airbnbs, which bring money to Chattanooga.
Mayor Kelly said a high percentage of Chattanoogans make right at 100 percent of the average median income, or below.
“None of those people, on average, can afford to buy a house,” he said. “We’ve got a problem.”
He and Mayor Wamp want to give incentives to builders committed to affordable housing.
When Mayor Kelly entered office, he said, he learned that, for six years the city had been spending $3 million a year on street paving, instead of the needed $6 million or $7 million. This year, Mayor Kelly said, the paving budget is $10 million.
“Any extra money we find basically goes to the paving budget,” he said. Since he took office he said public works has filled 40,000 potholes, and potholes reported to 311 will be filled by a dedicated truck within 24 hours, he said.