The Scruffy Citizen wrote an excellent piece about what the focus for his beloved Knoxville should be in the next few years. ["A Sense of Moment," Secret History by Jack Neely, Jan. 5, 2012] I agree completely with the Citizen's view of downtown being nothing more than a circus for people that can afford the food and drinks and movies. A thriving downtown environment, one that separates itself from the rest of the nation, should not be about how many fusion restaurants and boutiques you can cram into each square mile.
I have lived in smaller cities across the South from Charlotte, N.C. to Austin, Texas to find a place that fits my financial situation and my tastes in art and music. In my many relocations, I have noticed a simple truth about these newly revived cities: They are all the same. I had high expectations in Austin being a place that provided venues for people to enjoy good music and places to unwind with a good beer and possibly engage in strong discussions about various subjects. Instead, the "scene" was more important than the actuality of the place and this is what Mr. Neely is describing.
I recently moved to Knoxville from Asheville (where I grew up) and my frustration with its change sometimes actually does keep me up at night. That poor little mountain town was besieged by these ridiculous "scenesters" and a once beautiful and comfortable downtown was maliciously transformed into a showcase of how unique (and expensive) you can live. It is sad to know that I can go to any major or minor city in the vast nation and pretty much know what to expect. Character and community are being replaced by quick fixes for a few affluent residents and can turn a downtown into nothing more than a tourist shop. Working-class cities should be enjoyed by the true residents. Although I am not a native of Knoxville, I am a Southerner that comes from a similar type of setting.
A city must truly distinguish itself from the trends in order to become a place that all people can enjoy, not just recent grads who are lucky enough to land a decent-paying job and want some superficial block or square to cater to their tastes. Downtown Knoxville is not big enough to allow this type of nonsense to happen. Careful decisions must be made about what is allowed in those vacant buildings before those recent "downtowners" get bored and move somewhere else. Knoxville is still in the beginning stages of this madness and with the right leadership and public support it can really become a place that people can be proud of calling home. If people don't wise up to these harsh realities then the humorous metro-slogan of "Keep Knoxville Scruffy" will change to "Keep Knoxville Puffy."