Sweating the Small Stuff

How dog poop fits, or doesn't fit, into the grander scheme of things

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Commentary

by Matt Edens

Years ago, back before he became ambassador to Poland (a posting that has always puzzled me, considering the Poles' past experience with annexation), I once got a phone call out of the blue from then-mayor Victor Ashe. Seems he wanted to inform me that someone proposed putting a cell tower on Magnolia, not far from my Parkridge home, and wondered if I'd support a moratorium he was proposing on such towers within the city. I said sure. I may have even written a letter or two to council.

A cynic might say that tower on Magnolia wouldn't have mattered one whit in the larger scheme of things if, at the same time, a different developer wasn't attempting to site a similar tower in the middle of Sequoyah Hills. Now, the mayor didn't mention that particular tower during our brief conversation on the topic, but I'd be willing to bet it wasn't the one on Magnolia that prompted the moratorium. The Sequoyah tower, near the neighborhood's small commercial center (I'll say this about Sequoyah, it's much more mixed-use than most people give it credit forâ"there are even apartments in the middle of it) stirred up a good bit of controversy.

The council meeting on the moratorium, if memory serves, was well attended by Sequoyah Hills residents seeking to protect their quality of life (and, as several speakers pointed out, the scenic beauty of their Dogwood Trail). If I recall correctly, the moratorium passed council, but was later overturned in the courts. Although I'm not sure they ever erected the tower Hizzoner ostensibly called me about.

Similarly, Sequoyah came up on another occasion, when some manufactured housing lobbyists working at the state level succeeded in overturning zoning restrictions prohibiting house trailers (excuse me, manufactured homes) within city limits. Predictably, trailers started popping up on vacant lots in less-pricey parts of the city, causing concern among several inner-city neighborhood organizations. At a meeting once, when reps from several neighborhoods got together to discuss ways to address the issue, one wag came up with what she thought was a sure-fire strategy to force some action from the city: Chip in, buy a vacant lot and park a trailer somewhere in Sequoyah. Sadly, there was one drawback to the proposal: the price of lots (one reason, last I checked, why there are no doublewides on Cherokee Boulevard).             

I bring these anecdotes up because warming temperatures have brought about, like the swallows of Capistrano, one of Knoxville's annual signs of summer: complaints about dogs crapping downtown. (Surely you've seen the little flags? Or the obligatory article in the News Sentinel awhile back?) Sure, it's a nuisance (the crap, not the complaints) and possibly a hazard to public health. But compared to all the problems the center city facesâ"crime, abandoned housing, underperforming schoolsâ"is it really all that pressing an issue? The same could be said of standards for the placement of public art, or the pros and cons of graffiti (and yes, I did chime in on that particular controversy).

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that downtown's residential boom is a real boon for the city, as is the revitalization of center-city neighborhoods such as Fourth and Gill and Old North Knoxville. Hopefully, spillover from their success should aid other areas still struggling against decades of disinvestment. But that ideal scenario isn't assured. It's human nature, once folks succeed in carving out an enclave with a certain quality of life, to turn the focus inward, defend the perimeter, and correct the more minor nuisances that remain.

For example, talking about the challenges facing center-city schools the other day, a friend from Old North observed that things will have to get better now that more middle- and upper-income folk are moving into the center city. Personally, I'm not so sure. After all, the good news that downtown condos were selling for as much per square foot as homes in Sequoyah didn't do much for Green Elementary, the school downtown was once zoned for. Instead, rather than use the influx of upper-income residents as a springboard to revamping Green, the county simply decided to send those new downtown kids to Sequoyah.

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