I recently offended a very nice person by reacting too emotionally to his use of “Oak Ridge.” I felt very bad about my behavior but very grateful for the insight. The discussion was, I believe, about renaming Pellissippi Parkway as The Oak Ridge Corridor. I failed to see any benefit to Oak Ridge in the name change. My friend (I hope) began to enumerate ways in which it would benefit “Oak Ridge” and I smacked the table and declared, “THAT isn’t Oak Ridge. That’s Oak Ridge National Lab!”
This is an understandable confusion which may no longer be doing our city a service. It is a cultural disconnect that we could, and I believe should, work on. Folks who have come here through the years to create the national lab or to do critical security work see Oak Ridge the way many of the original residents have, as more about a Mission. Those of us who came here because the town itself attracts us differentiate between the city and the DOE installations.
When Mr. McBride or Mr. Hensley refer to DOE not paying a fair share to the city, they are seeing the value of the town itself. They are concerned for its viability and independence. I have asked the question before, “What if DOE went away? How would Oak Ridge survive and thrive?”
Has anyone at DOE pondered how it would affect the federal missions if Oak Ridge went away? Oak Ridgers have always supported the DOE missions, even those who have never directly worked on them. We are patriots and most of us are proud to have roles in both national security and nationally sponsored research and development happening within the boundaries of our hometown.
We need to encourage those industries to be proud of the town they are in and to fully engage in its well-being. We need to invite the federally-sponsored endeavors here to identify our Hometown as their Hometown. We need them to see the city they reside in as critical partners and hosts.
One way to do so would be to outline several city needs that the DOE contractors, and other companies here, could help underwrite. In addition to the wonderful Education Foundation, workplaces here might like to contribute to or work on a renovation/construction of a first class senior center. The Peace/Friendship Bell project needs funds. The ball fields need additional sponsors (and users.) More streets need adopters to restore the clean streetscapes we admire. There must be many other projects which have long life potential to commemorate the efforts of those who have helped to fund them.
The theme here is: who are we? Are we Oak Ridge, Hometown U.S.A., hosts to national treasures past and present? Or are we becoming a shadow, a disappearing adjunct of the federal mission? If this town had a long range vision, which would you rather it be?