A big stink about Chattanooga’s big stink

Authored By Bill Colrus

It was somewhat fitting that WTCI aired the episode of Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” featuring the Battle of Chattanooga Thursday evening, as many Chattanoogans fought back that day against some northern aggression on the part of a writer from New York.

In an upcoming column recounting his visit to Chattanooga to test drive the new Volkswagen Passat, Jamie Kitman, Automobile Magazine‘s New York bureau chief, says downtown Chattanooga has a “most incredible stench” that “makes recommending the city as a vacation destination-or as a place to locate your heavy industry-problematic.”

Scores of Chattanoogans have flooded online message boards and talk radio airwaves to respond to Kitman’s comments. Some share Kitman’s assessment that downtown stinks. Others haven’t been so nice, with one commenter reminding him that “New York doesn’t exactly smell like flowers,” either.

After careful consideration, I have to concede that both points of view pass this sniff test.

There are places in this city where one’s olfactory senses are often quite literally assaulted by the smells bubbling under this old factory town. Area leaders and spokespeople say that they’re aware of the problem and that it’s being dealt with, but hot and dry conditions exacerbate the issue, and the city simply doesn’t have the funds necessary-$400 million-to completely fix all of the problems associated with a sewer system that dates back to the early 1900s. The fact that Chattanooga sits at the bottom of a bowl set between mountains doesn’t help air circulation, either. (The additional smells coming from the chicken plant on the Southside is another topic for another day.)

If you’ve lived here for any length of time, you know the odor can be quite offensive. You also likely know that it is fairly intermittent, isolated and avoidable. You, like thousands of Chattanoogans, adjust. You roll your car windows up. You hold your breath for a few steps until you turn the corner. You take a different route. A good rain seems to help things, and the air seems clearer when temperatures cool down.  Any relatively small area with a high concentration of people working and/or living there is going to have similar issues. But this issue doesn’t affect our entire city. The same can’t be said for New York.

I grew up an hour from Manhattan. I visited the city often and, if you’ve never been, I can assure you that the Big Apple is just as stinky as the Scenic City, if not more so.

My most recent visit to New York took place this past June. My wife, kids and I drove into the city from my sister’s house in Connecticut. We parked our van in a parking garage on the Upper West Side and spent the day walking around the city. We took in several tourist attractions, shops and restaurants, as well as the smell of urine, which was pretty much present during the entire time we were there. (I counted. We walked roughly 80 blocks that day.)

Did it stink? Yes. Did it ruin our day? No. We were in New York, the biggest city in the world, and the fun far outweighed the funk. I would imagine that, for the most part, visitors feel the same way about Chattanooga. People are still coming. The Lookouts haven’t moved off of Kirkman Hill and the Tennessee Aquarium hasn’t closed down. For all of our offensive odors, we still have a lot to offer.

Jamie Kitman is a great writer, but his piece was an even greater waste of time.

What did he say about the Passat again?

Bill Colrus writes about local news, culture and media. You can find him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or reach him at [email protected].