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602 S. Gay Street
Knoxville, TN 37902
I was dismayed, recently, to read a letter from my friend Ken Moffitt in your pages, where he called my neighborhood a slum. [“Going, Going, Gone,” Oct. 18, 2012] I don’t think that’s quite a fair assessment. Since the establishment of the Neighborhood Conservation Zone in Fort Sanders, there has been a significant turnaround. There are now, I believe, more owner-occupied dwellings in the Fort than there have been since at least the mid-1970s. Prior to the zoning protection it seemed as if we lost two houses to demolition or fire, to every house that was restored or renovated. That has absolutely stopped.
New investors have come in and purchased many of the houses, stripped them to the studs, and completely renovated them. These are mostly the more modest houses, so the remarkable number of them that have had a makeover provides an unprecedented level of stability within which to explore possibilities for restoration or renovation of some of the more elaborate houses that need work. We still need more single-family houses in the Fort, to provide continuity and stability, while multi-unit housing will always be needed, to serve students, a major defacto clientele. More University faculty and staff in the neighborhood would enhance the quality of community.
Yes, it is true that some of the habits of people in the neighborhood can give it the appearance of a slum. We have some folks parking cars in their front yards, and there’s been a recent epidemic of indoor upholstered furniture appearing on porches. In East Tennessee we used to call this sort of thing “trashy.” And it is. We need to wake up and take pride in the charm of this historic neighborhood that we love and get our act together about the way we present it to casual visitors.
I think one of the significant needs we have right now may be a communication mechanism to keep all of us current with what is going on in the Fort and to help generate a cohesive sense of community. Maybe it’s time to revive The Fort Sanders Longstreet Journal of the 1970s, a newspaper produced by residents of the neighborhood. If you haven’t ever seen it, visit Special Collections in the Hodges Library at UT. It’s available there for the viewing!