While sitting in the Market Square Tomato Head on Saturday afternoon, I read with interest Mr. Neely's article about the new Anthropologie store on Kingston Pike in Bearden and his subsequent comments on the walkability of the neighborhood. ["Bearden, Again," Secret History, Aug. 29, 2013] I have some observations of my own! I have worked in Bearden for the last 19 years. The small architecture firm for which I work, Falconnier Design Co., renovated an old house on Chambliss Avenue in the late 1990s, and before that we were in the basement of Western Plaza. In that time I have gotten to know Bearden intimately and I can assure you that it is one of Knoxville's most walkable districts and has only become more so since I have been down there.
Most mornings between 9 and 10, I walk to Starbuck's for a Venti Bold (with room). From my office I can walk to any of a dozen restaurants for lunch including Subway, Dead End BBQ, Firehouse, Lenny's, El Mezcal, Panera Bread, Long's Drug Store and the "asphalty" Chick-fil-A. I can and do walk to my bank, to the grocery store (Earth Fare, Kroger, or Fresh Market) and to my children's dance studio. I have walked to funerals in Highland Cemetery. The post office is about a mile, but I have walked there, too, and if my car needs work, I drop it off at Fisher Tire less than two blocks from my office. For my afternoon walk I can hike east down the Third Creek bike trail where I pause at the little bridge behind the Laurel church of Christ where my dad took me on Sundays after worship when I was little. I can hike west down the Sutherland Avenue greenway, or north up Forest Park Boulevard or south down Mellen Avenue. I see lots of young moms and dads pushing strollers on Bearden's shady side streets, and a lot of kids still walk to Bearden Elementary and West High. If I wanted to, I could walk to about four barbershops, a beer garden, several doctor's offices, and two fine Mexican bakeries. Bearden is close enough to downtown that, if I chose to ride the bus, it would not be inconvenient to do so since it runs with almost European regularity through Bearden.
True, being a regular pedestrian is not without its issues. I have to stare down motorists at the corner of Newcom and Kingston Pike nearly every day. Crossing the Pike at Forest Park or Lyons View is a little easier, actually, but West Knoxvillians are still surprised that people walk places.
Bearden could be that perfect district, and it nearly is but for one thing: housing. Bearden needs more housing as Mr. Neely aptly noted with the demise of the old UT apartments. One bright spot is the 440 apartment building on Forest Park, but we need about four more of those. There are lots where they could be built, but zoning and attitudes would have to change. I am not sure Knoxville is ready for higher density housing outside of downtown, although there is no reason not to be. Perhaps City Council and the Bearden neighborhood associations can lead the way on this front, offering tax incentives and new zoning regulations which reduce the area required for parking and allow higher densities and smaller setbacks. With so much to walk to, the parking would not be as much of an issue. The West End area of Nashville around Vanderbilt University is a good area to emulate. Bearden does not need to be an "attraction" sort of place but a real, working, living district. The "real" and the "working" are there in abundance. All we need is more of the "living!"