Lauren Rider: City council’s energizer bunny

Larry Van GuilderInside 640, Our Town Leaders

Lauren Rider is the energizer bunny of the city council and she’s fully charged. Put it down to the happy transition from living two miles down a dirt road in rural Georgia to the streets of Atlanta where she attended (no booing, please) Georgia State University.

It’s too bad we can’t clone council member Rider a few times. Her electric energy could put a sizeable dent in fossil fuel consumption and put the Saudis in their place. Take that, Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

If solving the entire nation’s energy problems and shrinking our carbon footprint isn’t presently on her radar, she sees plenty of opportunities for progress locally. Is the city fully capitalizing on its strengths?

“I think we’re getting there,” Rider says. “We have wonderful outdoor activities.”

The District 4 council member thinks we spend too much time needlessly comparing ourselves to Chattanooga or Asheville. When critics laud Chattanooga’s riverfront development she cites Knoxville’s own expanding development along the Tennessee River as well as new recreational areas like Suttree Landing Park.

If Rider could arrange it, there’s little doubt every family in Knoxville would be outfitted with the basic tools for healthy living: bicycles, sturdy walking shoes and a kayak for occasional river fun. She’s a devotee of cycling and would like nothing more than to see greenways interconnect all across Knoxville.

A greenway all the way from Fountain City to downtown is on her to-do list, which is not as farfetched as it might seem at first; Rider believes “the old ways” are coming around again. It’s a question of both need and an evolving attitude shift, most noticeably among young urban professionals.

Cars lined up to drop their children off at school in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon provide a perfect example of the need to revive old methods. Children residing within the “parental responsibility” zone who could walk to school can’t manage it if there are no sidewalks.

Navigating the city on bicycles, another of the old ways, is difficult and dangerous without dedicated bike lanes. She correctly notes that while the public often views mass transit as a relatively new method of moving from point A to point B, not so long ago it was the only game in town.

A dwindling number of locals can remember the old trolley line which shut down as buses and a mushrooming number of automobiles drove it out of business. (We’ll discount horse-drawn buggies; who needs the mess?)

Rider sees an opportunity for the city and county governments to cooperate in expanding mass transit to rural areas. The service could be especially beneficial for senior citizens and people with health issues which prevent their driving.

If one word could sum up her social philosophy it would be “community.” She’s proud of her District 4 neighborhoods where homes, she says, are “the most diverse” in the city, and she’s noticed others noticing.

“Once newcomers to Knoxville were pointed west,” she says, but not so much these days. Besides, not every area can be represented by a bundle of energy like Rider, not even the good folks in Farragut and other points west.

Larry Van Guilder is the business/government editor for KnoxTNToday.

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