• BEST REASON TO LIVE HERE
    • The Smoky Mountains
    • Voters expressed it in about six different ways, but the overall favorite was clear: living near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a big part of Knoxville’s allure. In previous years, some cynics might have counted that as evidence of our lack of civic pride—“We can’t think of anything good to say about the city, so we pick something 30 miles away.” But whereas in the ’90s this category would have been inundated with voters trying to be the biggest smart-aleck, there were very few sarcastic answers submitted. Most everybody wrote very earnest reasons why they like living here. “After years of trying to emulate other cities, Knoxville has come to realize that the best things about Knoxville are fundamentally Knoxvillesque,” wrote one voter. We agree—and hereby claim the Smoky Mountains as one of our own. (C.T.)
    • Runners-Up:
    • Cost of living, People, UT Sports, Weather
    • BEST REASON TO LEAVE HERE
    • Air Quality
    • Breathing in seems to be the biggest hassle associated with Knoxville living, according to our readers. Allergies, pollution, and smog all added up to a very legitimate, factual reason to get out of town—though doing it by car may just add to the problem, as does runner-up reason “traffic.” Living in a valley doesn’t help, nor being near coal-burning power plants. On the plus side, the seven-county Knoxville region is on schedule to come into compliance with smog standards early next year, according to the News Sentinel—though by then the EPA standards for ozone will be even higher. (C.T.)
    • Runners-Up:
    • Construction and traffic, county government, UT Sports
    • BEST-KEPT SECRET ABOUT KNOXVILLE
    • Market Square?!
    • The fact that Market Square might even be a contender for Best-Kept Secret may require some explaining. The 155-year-old public gathering place has been front-page news pretty regularly for years; it’s been the focus of several development controversies, and the recipient of millions in public and private investment, including a major public parking garage, adjacent to it; in the last few years, crowds estimated at upwards of 10,000 have convened on the Square for major rock shows, as well as festivals: Rossini, Dogwood, Christmas, New Year’s Eve. Frommer’s, Southern Living, and the New York Times have recently described it, and it appears in several major American novels by the likes of Cormac McCarthy and James Agee. It’s also the headquarters of the metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
    • Okay, so it’s not that secret. Still, every day visitors come downtown and drive down Gay, Main, Summit Hill, Henley, Central, and miss it altogether. It’s not on or near or clearly visible from any major automobile thoroughfare, and few signs point it out. We know West Knoxvillians and UT professors who have rarely or never been there and aren’t sure how to find it. (Jack Neely)
    • Runners-Up:
    • Downtown, greenways, Ijams
    • BEST NEIGHBORHOOD
    • Sequoyah Hills
    • & BEST PARK
    • Sequoyah Park
    • The 83-year-old subdivision known as Sequoyah Hills has an old-money reputation, and real-estate agents love to use the word “exclusive” to describe it. Its charm, however, is that it’s not exclusive at all. The neighborhood’s liberal range of housing is unmatched anywhere, regardless of its dearth of trailer parks, embracing extravagant mansions and efficiency apartments, posh condos and rental ranchers. Its residents include UT undergraduates, elderly widows, yuppies, families. About 4,000 people live in Sequoyah Hills; how “exclusive” can it be?
    • And its politics are dependably interesting. In 2006, the Sequoyah precinct favored conservative Republican Bob Corker, but roundly rejected the anti-gay-marriage proposal, which passed in the rest of the state, even in Democratic districts, overwhelmingly.
    • Accessible by two bus routes and the city’s main bike-trail system, “exclusive” Sequoyah may be, in fact, Knoxville’s most public neighborhood, entertaining visitors daily with its much-used boulevard running trail, its ball fields, its public library branch, and a few pocket parks, plus riverside Sequoyah Park, a.k.a. Cherokee Park, one of the largest public parks in the central part of town. On a spring weekend, Sequoyah Park is busy with Frisbee artists, touch-footballers, volleyballers, lovers, golfers, boaters, revelers of all colors and at least two species; though a sign used to warn dog owners to keep dogs on leashes, by city ordinance, somebody stole it. And with no sign, it’s therefore apparently now legal to loose your dog in the park, an option many visitors obviously relish. The daily population of loose dogs in Sequoyah Park seems to have pentupled in the last decade. On a weekend afternoon, loose dogs often outnumber actual humans; whether that’s a good thing or not may depend on your perspective. Though Sequoyah Park used to be a haven for blue herons and some rarer shore birds, dogs tend to think they’re all squirrels, so bird-watching is not what it used to be. And in our experience, picnicking is somewhat more problematic than it once was. (J.N.)
    • Best Neighborhood Runners-Up:
    • Downtown, Fountain City, Fourth and Gill
    • Best Park Runners-Up:
    • Concord Park, Victor Ashe Park, World’s Fair Park
    • BEST NEW OR RENOVATED BUILDING
    • Tennessee Theatre
    • The renovation was actually finished in 2005, but it’s good enough to still count three years later. The 80-year-old official theater of the state of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Grand Entertainment Palace was closed for a year and a half between 2003 and 2005 for a $25 million renovation and restoration. The results are still breathtaking—vibrant colors, previously obscured details (like the relief sculptures of a horse and lion in eternal standoff on the arch above the stage) finally visible, lavish new appointments in the lobby, elevators, and an enormous new vertical illuminated sign appropriate for a historical landmark and the best place in town to see a concert. (M.E.)
    • Runners-Up:
    • The Crown & Goose, Emporium, Regal Riviera
    • BEST EYESORE
    • Sunsphere
    • “We need to build a thing. And not just a thing, but a Thing. Let it be a Thing that will figuratively tower above all the other things built before it. No, that’s not it. Let it literally tower above them. The Thing will be a tower, a golden, or more accurately, gold-tinted, tower, and it will reach so far into the sky—nearly 270 feet!—as to block out the sun itself. In fact, we will put a new sun atop the Thing! A more perfect sun, and it will be made of windows. When we’ve built our Thing, we will welcome people into its sun so that they may look down upon God’s Thing-less creation and scoff.
    • “And we will charge them two dollars.”
    • —Anonymous notes, ca. 1975, recovered from a 2002 Farragut archeological dig (C.M.)
    • Runners-Up:
    • McClung Warehouses, South Knox Water Tower, Turkey Creek
    • BEST PUBLIC SERVANT & BEST DO-GOODER
    • Bill Haslam
    • This could be the end of the line for the expression, “Nice guys finish last”—in Knoxville, at least. Mayor Bill Haslam took a decisive first in big races in 2003 and 2007, and he’s still relentlessly kind to children, old people, historic landmarks, and folks of all ages who need guidance with personal health or safety.
    • Haslam’s on-the-job do-gooding includes finding free fields for the non-competitive Senior Co-Ed Softball league this spring, working with Regal Cinemas and historic preservationists to find a way to save the S&W Cafeteria and build a premier downtown cinema, and all but mandating the formation of a “one call does it all” 311 number so all in the fair city can quite handily find the department or service that will do them some good.
    • And while he doesn’t have as much opportunity as he once did in the official off-hours, Haslam has been there, done that as chairman of the board and general chairman of the United Way of Greater Knoxville; chairman of the board and president, Project GRAD; executive committee chairman, Young Life of Knoxville; chairman of the board and executive committee, Salvation Army and so many others that space does not allow.
    • Maybe the excess endorphins he generates as an avid bicycler and sometimes marathon runner are what keep him in this do-gooder frame of mind. Surely he was sorely tempted to step out of character for a little while in 2006 when the city found itself with surplus funds in the budget. Conservative Republican or not, Haslam made sure the funds found their way to paying forward on new fire equipment, sidewalks, and road paving when he probably could have made his staunchest supporters a lot happier by paying back the tax payer.
    • Still, no one’s saying Haslam’s going to lose his interest in the business world. And one of his favorite movies, as revealed in his 2007 inauguration speech, is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, an immoral duo if ever there was one.
    • Do-perfecter? No. But he’s good, he thinks we can all do better... and at being a do-gooder, he’s the best. (Rose Kennedy)
    • Best Public Servant Runners-Up:
    • Bill Lyons, “No One,” Chris Woodhull
    • Best Do-Gooder Runners-Up:
    • Jim Haslam (tie), Mary Lou Horner (tie), Kate Jackson, Bruce Pearl, Benny Smith (tie)
    • BEST TROUBLEMAKER
    • Greg “Lumpy” Lambert
    • As one of the alleged ringleaders of the notorious Tim Hutchison faction on Knox County Commission, the Lumpster found himself in the middle of all kinds of controversy this past year, beginning with the infamous Jan. 31, 2007 commission appointments that saw term-limited commissioners replaced by cronies of Lumpy and his ilk, and continuing through County Mayor Mike Ragsdale’s ongoing p-card scandals, which have enabled Lambert and co. to turn the tables a little and play the role of Justifiably Outraged Public Servant(s) for a change. All that scandal, plus an ace good-ol’-boy nickname and a penchant for carrying large firearms make Lambert an obvious choice for the city’s most troubling of troublemakers. (M.G.)
    • Runners-Up:
    • County Commission, Herb Moncier, Mike Ragsdale
    • BEST LOCAL ISSUE
    • Assorted County Messes
    • That, in a nutshell, is the running theme among numerous contenders, which included topics like “county government,” “purchase cards,” “Sunshine Law,” and “term limits.” Well, you know what that’s all about, so we won’t rehash it for you again. (Just pick up the last six months’ worth of issues for a refresher.) But, in a more positive spirit, the most popular issue after that crowd is “downtown renovation.” It’s still a point of interest (perhaps pride?) among our readers, and we hope so as well for our city leaders. (C.T.)