Setting the Trends

Let's not pretend we're above it all. Trendiness has a deep local history here. Most of what Americans do could be described as the result of one trend or another. The oldest building in Knoxville is a log cabin, built in 1786 by James White. Log cabins didn't exist in this region half a century before; America's earliest settlers built their houses of planks. Log cabins began as a trendy Scandinavian fad. ("What?" some hip black-clad East Coast settler surely said to some Tennessee Valley pioneer in 1750, "You don't have log cabins yet? Please.")

When Knoxville businessmen installed streetcar lines, the city was following a national trend. In 1890, we were behind the urban centers of the north, but ahead of most of the South; New Orleans would become famous for streetcars, but Knoxville had them two years earlier. Of course, half a century later, it was trendy to get rid of streetcars. Knoxville was right in line with that trend, too.

In the 20th century, we were early on the radio-station trend, late on the television trend. We were perhaps just a little late on the convention-center fad, and paid for it.

We tried to start a Sunsphere trend, but it didn't catch on except in Kazakhstan. A few years ago, Astana, the capital, built a frou-frou version of the Sunsphere. Their golden ball of mirrored glass has observation decks and is almost exactly the same size as ours, though in Kazakhstan the golden ball is meant to represent a giant egg. The whole structure, which is called Bayterek, is much taller, and has a lot more stuff on it. There's reportedly the gilded handprint of the Kazakh president on the structure; when you put your hand on it to make a wish, the Kazakh national anthem plays.

Our Sunsphere looks, by comparison, unfinished. Astana has raised Knoxville's ante.

We can be thankful that not everything we have fits into a recognizable trend we heard of before it got here. Some other cities have crépe shops like the French Market on Gay Street, but a créperie's not something you necessarily expect to find in any city outside of the French-speaking world. As of this writing, Atlanta seems to lack one.

Gastropubs, upscale English-cuisine restaurant/bars like the Crown & Goose, thrive in a few American cities, but it's safe to say that most still don't have any such thing.

And live-music radio shows like those WDVX produces five or six times a week are extremely unusual in any American city. Maybe it's too early to call it a trend, but it folds in with the Americana trend of unpretentious roots-oriented music which budded in the '90s and still seems to be blooming. (It's hard to remember that, 10 years ago, fans of what was starting to be known as "Americana" complained Knoxville had no place to hear live bluegrass on a regular basis.)