Written by Ann Coulter
On May 16, six Morehead-Cain Scholars at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, all rising sophomores, began an eight week residency program on civic collaboration in Chattanooga’s Innovation District. Floor Five of the Edney Innovation Center was home base and UTC dorms their housing. Their task was to immerse themselves in the civic culture of Chattanooga and leave behind a substantial contribution on an urban issue in only eight weeks. Their assigned question: What are the appropriate metrics for Chattanooga’s new economy with a focus on the Innovation District and EPB’s smart grid and high fiber network; and what are the relationships among the metrics?
By the time they rolled out of town eight weeks later they had nailed their task, and developed informed, original, and valuable answers to the question. My summary wouldn’t do their work justice so see their report, their blog, and their short video on the Innovation District for yourself. But here are a few observations of their time here.
WEEKS 1-2 The Scholars are quickly learning their way around and are most excited about getting bike share passes. They are hungry pretty much all the time, finding their food allowance skimpy. One gets pneumonia but won’t go the doctor till after their daily afternoon team meeting. They discover Nightfall. They are asking really good questions about how entrepreneurship, diversity, place, and culture figure into innovation and the district. They acquire a pet fish.
WEEKS 3-4 They begin interviewing over 50 people to gain perspectives on the Innovation District, and learn how other cities are entering the innovation economy. Their website hits over 1200 views and their blog becomes an Edney cult favorite. They download all kinds of free 30 day trials on data bases, graphics programs, etc. They manage to eat at least a meal a day at events in The Edney and discover the area’s whitewater rafting and tubing. One celebrates a 19th birthday.
WEEKS 5-6 They are the hardest working people in this building this summer. They visit ORNL. And they never stop smiling. They actually get up at 5 am to hike Lookout Mtn. More than once. They are having a hard time narrowing their research to be able to finish in just two weeks. Innovation Districts are complex and there is little previous research of any kind to go on – scholars are breaking new ground.
WEEKS 7-8 They know more about the Innovation District in the context of how to determine its overall value than anyone, anywhere. Their website flies past 5K views. Ken takes them to lunch at Uncle Larry’s on M.L. King – fried okra, fish, fries and green tomatoes. They summarize their 30 page report, and premier a cool as hell four-minute video about the Innovation District to a crowd at Innovation Happy Hour and they can’t even have a drink beforehand to get ready.
WEEK 9 I miss them. To the folks running the Morehead Cain Scholarship – those are an awesome bunch of young people. Thanks much for sending them our way. BTW – my favorite blog post.