Best of Knoxville 2011: Knoxville Life

Best Thing Knoxville Needs

Better Public Transportation

It's an old plea, and about half the voters mentioned it specifically: light rail. Those in the know tell us that's a long shot, in this lifetime, especially given current attitudes toward taxes, but that doesn't stop us from dreaming. KAT has a sparkling new transit center, and its recent schedule reshuffling has gotten mostly positive reviews. Many UT folks depend on KAT daily (although the buses seem more popular among grad students and professors than among undergraduates), and the free trolleys in the UT/Downtown area have grown in use. In general, service is much, much better than it was, say, 20 years ago, and it's claimed that buses are more dependably on time than they have been in memory. But most buses run just once an hour after 7 p.m., and there's still no service at all after the 11:15 p.m. buses leave downtown for their final runs. Part of our problem, of course, is sprawl; we like to live far apart from each other, and no Knoxville neighborhood after 1940 was planned with public transit routes in mind. To be fair, many people who complain about Knoxville's lack of public transportation don't ever try to use it, and that becomes part of the cycle. For several years, KAT operated an enhanced nighttime schedule, with buses leaving downtown every half hour until almost midnight. But just a couple of years ago, it was pared back, largely due to lack of riders. You can talk to your (conservative) representatives about more money for transportation, and see how far it gets you, but for now the best way to improve public transit is to vote with your fare. (J.N.)

Runners Up: Bike lanes, downtown grocery, more greenways

Best Local Attraction

& Best Place to Meet Friends

Market Square

The 157-year-old gathering place is becoming again what it was a century or more ago—the one place where nearly everybody shows up at one time or another. Just 20 years ago it was the quiet domain of lunching TVA employees, but lately we find nonagenarians, teenagers, toddlers in strollers, attorneys, bankers, librarians, street musicians, and even tourists hanging around, at all times of day, from when the first breakfast place opens at 7 a.m. to when the last bar closes at 3 a.m. And when they're on Market Square, they all seem to be having a good time.

In the Best Place to Meet New Friends category Market Square blistered the competition (and even then the second-runner-up is a Market Square institution). Market Square may be the best place to meet old friends, too. We've found that when one is in a hurry, it's best to avoid Market Square altogether. Too damn many interesting conversations there, always lying in ambush. (J.N.)

Local Attraction Runners Up: Knoxville Zoo, Smoky Mountains, Sunsphere

Place to Meet Friends Runners Up: UT Campus, Preservation Pub, (tie) Downtown & Downtown Grill and Brewery

Best Place to Take Your Kids For Free

World's Fair Park

The reconfigured World's Fair Park is arguably the only useful thing Knoxvillians got out of the $150 million-or-so Convention Center project of a decade ago. And we'll be paying for it for the next few decades to come, so we might as well make the most of it. The ring of jumping fountains, the large play field, and the extensive playground make it a magnet for Knox families during the warm months. It attracts a broader and livelier range of local children from all over the city than any other spot in town we know of. (J.F.M.)

Runners Up: Market Square, Ijams Nature Center, Fort Kid

Best Reality TV Show Contestant From Knoxville

Ashley Johnston, The Biggest Loser

She became the nation's Pink Ninja on Season Nine of The Biggest Loser, the one with the heart of gold and the sometimes salty language, competing as a pair with her Lil' Mama Sherry Johnston. But Ashley had Knoxville fans long before that, whether she was singing karaoke at Toots Little Honky Tonk or enacting extreme makeovers as a local esthetician. She ended up as the female who lost the most weight ever in one season on the show (183 pounds, 48.93 percent of her body weight), and has since become spokesperson for the "Body by Biggest Loser" clothing line. But she doesn't belong to us alone anymore—she found romance with Koli Palu on the show and just this past week moved to California to be with him and pursue more ventures. We're sure they'll love her Southern accent and blonde-bombshell ways there, but remember, California, she was ours first. (R.K.)

Runners Up: Tina Wesson, Survivor; Johnny Knoxville, Jackass; Didi Benami, American Idol

Best Way to Get Tim Burchett to Attend Your Meeting

Ask Him/Invite Him

Knoxville appears willing to give County Mayor Tim Burchett a pass on the whole not attending meetings thing. According to a News Sentinel story in February, Burchett had missed about 80 percent of the meetings conducted by various county committees and panels. A little odd for a new mayor, maybe? Well, the majority of voters think all you really need to do is invite Burchett to your meeting. Done! But some of the more creative answers include: "Get Bill Haslam to come first, tell Tim about it." "Tell him the media will be there but they won't be asking questions." "Bring up hillside development." "Schedule it at Wright's Cafeteria." (C.T.)