A lot has gone into transforming downtown. Those of us who chose it as a place to live are part of that. But if downtown had to make it by relying only on people who live here, the successes we see today would never have happened. In the time I’ve lived here, it’s gone from a forsaken area that very few people found any reason to visit to a vibrant and lively place that most Knoxvillians seem proud to call their own. They like to come here now. And they like to show it off to visitors. It’s not the same place I moved to over a decade ago.
When I pulled up stakes, sold my house, and moved downtown, the community had barely begun to rediscover what it had abandoned in the preceding years. There weren’t restaurants on every block. There was no First Friday, no farmers market. There was no sushi, cinema, or Sunday brunches on Gay Street. And there were considerably more people around during the work week than on weekends. But in the evenings, things were beginning to happen.
Among its few amenities, there was a brewpub on Gay Street. It wasn’t just the craft beer and conversation that drew me in from my place in the ’burbs. There was an almost palpable sense of optimism that something was happening downtown—or about to. While the powers that be spent the daytime knocking down buildings to build a justice center or a planetarium or some other magic bullet that was going to pull downtown out of its decades-long downward spiral, in the evenings, another community began to coalesce at that brewpub that imagined a different kind of downtown. One where people would not only come to work and play, but to live. And somewhere along the line—through ways that I would never have imagined—I became one of those.
As more people started to notice the changes taking place downtown, Metro Pulse approached me to share a bit of what it was like to be a part of all that was taking place here, and Shot of Urban was born. I’ve spent the past few years trying to do that here. This column has always been about one thing: a view of downtown from someone who lives here. I’ve tried to distinguish the things that make this neighborhood different from any other in the region, and to share a little of the good and bad that comes with living in the center city. I took the opportunity in part because I felt that someone needed to describe what was happening here—to be a correspondent, of sorts, from a place that people were hearing a lot about but maybe still hadn’t ventured to themselves.
I’ve lived in downtown Knoxville now longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere. And in doing so, I’ve walked out every day to a place that was just a little bit better than it was the day before. That was sometimes hard to see in such short increments. And there have been the altogether predictable growing pains to deal with. But month by month and year by year, I’ve been on the front row to watch a place I love go through an amazing metamorphosis. And I’ve tried to share a sense of what it was like to be a full-time part of that. But though downtown’s revitalization is far from over, whatever role I’ve played in it as a resident is coming to an end.
Years ago, when I moved onto a block of mostly abandoned buildings, it felt almost as if the place needed me. It needed somebody, anyway. And for some reason, I needed it. Actually, it needed a lot of somebodies. But now they’re here, and that place is gone. Downtown these days has little in common with the place I moved to years ago. But with waiting lists for apartments and hundreds of new residential units in the works, it doesn’t need me anymore. And as changes take place in my own life, maybe I don’t need it either, at least as a place to call home. Though I will continue to be a part of the larger community that supports downtown, I’m giving up my resident status. I’ll still be working here. And playing here. I just won’t be living here, or telling you about it. It’s last call. And this is my last Shot of Urban.
Thanks to Metro Pulse for letting me play. And thank you, readers, for indulging me. They tell me that mowing a lawn is just like riding a bicycle: You never forget how to do it. I guess I’ll find out. But I still hope to see you downtown from time to time. I hear it’s a great place to visit these days.