Adventures in Urban Commentary: Knoxville

Not food related…for the most part…


I was a little scared of knoxville at first. This is because my academic patronage set me up in a quaint little internationalist hamlet atop Summit Ave. Quite the scene…

Things got better in a stepwise manner. First I encountered some charming undeveloped buildings and thought, “Okay, this place has got potential…” Being a rust-belt native, post-industrial urban landscapes are dear to my heart.

I soon came upon a 1950s diner that had been turned into an enterprise rent a car. I guess this is better than a strip mall? A sad reminder that most small business fail like the previous owners’ attempt at nostalgic dining? What was the macaroni and cheese like at this place? Not nice enough for the yuppies and muppies? Too pricy for the UTK students? Was it southern-fried mac n cheese? Did they offer phosphates and an extensive collection of locally baked pies or was it just a step up from fast food? The mind boggles at what might have been.

I then came upon a green space in the middle of a triangle intersection. It included the East Tennessee Monument to Country Music. The abstraction of the treble clef statue was pleasing and one must note the weary traveller actually using the bench. Green space is much more convincing when its used. The landscaping did suffer from the usual podperson syndrome, though. Round little clumps of bushes and forbs lined up in a intergalactic military fashion.

This park represented a bit of a boundary between the internationalist eyesore and the “South’s Finest Loft Apartments!”

Well, looks like they reused an old department store and probably didn’t displace anyone, so can I really complain? Density is good and I don’t know how $1000 for a two-bedroom compares in this city, but it isn’t obscene. Free trolley to UTK, so apparently student-friendly. Certainly compares favorably to the monstrous new complexes favored by UNC and Duke students.

It looked like other mixed use developments were actively developing around the edges of the Old City complete with Obama posters and little wire balconies just big enough for little flower plantings. These looked a little less affordable. I peeked through some windows, most occupied half a floor and could house a family of four. I doubt most do…

I found that the key elements of the Old City were preserved: common first floor heights, mixed facades set right up to sidewalk level. A charming streetscene to be sure. I liked the contrast of the ‘gastropub’ with $15 sandwiches setting across the street from an abandoned costume shop.

I do have to mention that people have renovated some pretty cool old buildings and kept a lot of original fixtures, etc. I liked the restoration of the crest in the gable of this building, which is otherwise unremarkable.

Patrick Sullivan’s Saloon is pretty nifty, both inside and out. There was an amateur Celtic Folk band playing when I had a few drinks there. That would often annoy me, but I rather enjoyed it at the time, maybe because the balcony over the bar was great for people watching.

Another good people watching spot was Historic Market Square on the other side of my cement-block home base. Seemed a little gimmicky and tourist oriented, but there is an awesome pizza/sammich shoppe called Tomato Head there. I’m talking pineapple, walnut, pesto and organic baked tofu melts, baby. Plus I like the semipermeable public space offered by the square.

So, all told, Knoxville seems affordable and liveable, at least in this little section near the city center. Cross those train tracks and you are in the strip mall wasteland for miles in any direction.

Makes me a little less worried that I don’t know where a post-doc might take me in a couple years. I’m starting to think any mid-sized city with a college will have an enclave of transitional gentrification I can afford to occupy. Hmmm, am I maturing or falling victim to declining expectations?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


An undead creature of fancy waxes philosophical from the kitchen, restaurant and sometimes the street.

%d bloggers like this: