Students in a freshman-level English class offered thoughts on Chattanooga. (Photo: Ashley Day)

This week, I had the pleasure of being a guest lecturer for two freshman-level English classes at UTC. Instead of a formal lecture, I opted to have an open discussion with them about their impressions of Chattanooga, many of them having only lived here since August.

I asked them to describe what they liked and disliked about the city, what they thought Chattanooga was lacking in terms of entertainment and retail establishments, and what they wished for the city moving forward.  

Their comments ranged from inspiring to bewildering, from funny to disheartening. I thought I’d share some of their concerns with you below. And remember, they’ve lived here for two months. Chattanooga has a tendency to grow on you.

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Small or large?
The majority of the 30 students I spoke with are from other cities. Only a handful grew up in Chattanooga. Many were from larger metro areas like Nashville and Memphis; others were from much smaller towns. The small-town students think Chattanooga has plenty to offer them, commenting on the outdoors activities, rich downtown life and big-city feel. The students from larger metro areas have been largely disappointed thus far by Chattanooga’s nightlife, access to live music and available restaurants.

UTC football
Many students feel disconnected with the Mocs football program. They don’t know about tailgating opportunities, are unaware of the team’s win-loss record and, most surprisingly, do not feel that UTC does an adequate job in promoting attendance at the games. Several students commented that UTC does not have a fan group like the Chattanooga Football Club has with the Chattahooligans. Other students were far more excited about attending basketball games than football games. One student had the perception that UTC football players are “losers” and commented, “Why would I go see a game if they lose all the time?”

Roads/parking
“Parking sucks” was a common theme. It was also a common theme when I was a student in the early 2000s. UTC’s parking situation continues to drive students crazy. Several students openly complained about the quality of roads around Chattanooga. Students from large metros were confused by the many one-way streets around the city. Other students had concerns about large potholes. Specifically, a student brought up “gas station bumps,” which he described as “large curbs as you enter and exit a gas station.” I’ve never noticed these, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Access to local music
Students said they do not feel connected to Chattanooga’s local music scene. They would love to see regular concerts on Chamberlain Field (on campus) and other areas around UTC. Sure, they’d love to see popular acts visit the city, but many said they would also enjoy a local artists showcase. Students, especially those from Nashville, said they were surprised at how little access there is to music for those 18 to 21. On a positive note, several students enjoyed the annual Riverbend Festival and would consider going back. They were, for the most part, unaware of Nightfall and the ongoing Levitt AMP Music Series. No one had heard of the free 3 Sisters Bluegrass Festival.

Dancing
I asked students where they go dancing, and the only response was “at fraternity parties.” When I was a UTC student, we had places, for better or worse, such as The Electric Cowboy, The Mix, Drink and Buck Wild. Unfortunately, Regan’s Place is a 21-and-up venue at all times. Southside Social is open to all ages, but only until 9 p.m. After that, you’re on your own in terms of finding a place to dance. I asked them what kind of dance clubs they would enjoy—a goth one, for example—and they had no input. Alan Golds was not mentioned. 

Downtown
Several students pointed out that people complaining about downtown being “boring” should look outside downtown for activities. They mentioned spending time in the Hamilton Place area and enjoying outdoor activities in Soddy-Daisy (blue holes) and hiking to places like Edward’s Point and Sunset Rock. If you’re not into the outdoors, Chattanooga can seem boring, they said. One student said she didn’t think a person should complain about “nothing to do” unless they’ve taken advantage of everything Chattanooga has to offer: Tennessee Aquarium, Ruby Falls, Rock City and more.

Is Chattanooga safe?
I asked students if they feel unsafe walking in Chattanooga. The consensus was that students have no problem walking from campus to Finley Stadium at night as long as they are in groups. They said their older relatives have told them Chattanooga is far more dangerous than they have observed. I asked them to tell me which areas of town they thought were “dangerous,” and several said M.L. King Boulevard past Champy’s Famous Fried Chicken. Overall, they do not feel Chattanooga is dangerous.

Chattanooga Police
Students inquired as to whether, on the whole, Chattanooga police officers are “mean.” They didn’t say “mean,” but I can’t write what they said in this column. I told them I had no experience with the topic.

The Yellow Deli
Is The Yellow Deli a cult? Students were curious about the restaurant, operated by the Twelve Tribes religious group. Regardless of the claim, no student had ever felt threatened by the organization while visiting and agreed the food is delicious. A quick poll suggested the cult status was not a determining factor in whether they would patronize the restaurant.

Lots of hippies
Students commented on the prevalence of nature lovers, “Chaco-wearers” and “hippies” in Chattanooga. They did not imply this is negative. However, they have noticed it.

Food trucks
Both classes were unaware of Chattanooga’s food truck scene. That is most likely because of a city ordinance that says a “mobile food unit is prohibited from operating on city streets, sidewalks or public property within the city limits.” I told students to visit the weekly Chattanooga Market to sample local food trucks.

The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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