Is that downtown Knoxville? Or just a speck on your collar

Imagine a small city. Now imagine a smaller one. Okay, now imagine a vaguely urban bit in a town you wouldn’t even consider a city. Knoxville’s downtown is even smaller than that. It encompasses about four city blocks. Seriously. I wish I was kidding.

An accurate portrayal of Knoxville's downtown
An accurate portrayal of Knoxville’s downtown

People from Knoxville do not seem to know how small their city is, so the polite Bostonian visitor should take care not to mention it. When C and I were looking for a place to live, a rental agent proudly told us that Downtown Knoxville was “just like New York City!” Except insofar as NYC and Knoxville both contain more than one building that is higher than 10 stories, this description turned out to be entirely inaccurate.

That’s not to say that downtown Knoxville is without its charms. Primary among these is that it’s far better to go there than visit the endless strip malls that cover all the rest of Knoxville.

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6 thoughts on “Is that downtown Knoxville? Or just a speck on your collar

  1. So much pain — so little space to share it. I grew up east of Knoxville; K’ville was the “big city.” I forget who, exactly, but a 19th century travel writer said that K’ville was easily the ugliest city in North America. Still so true.

    1. I’ve heard of Asheville. Would love to get over there, but we’re currently without a car and living on a shoestring, so it might take a while.

      (I’m intending to do a post about attempting to rely on walking and public transportation in Knoxville soon, but the short version is: don’t do it).

  2. Knoxville is also sneaky. When I moved there to attend school around 1980, the map indicated that is was in the south. It is really in Appalachia, a completely different locale.

  3. Having spent a good portion of my adult life in Knoxville before moving back to Nashville, you are spot on in that Downtown is a far better place to visit than the endless suburban wasteland that is West Knoxville and the surrounding area.
    However, there are other places outside of the city proper that are nice to go to. South Knoxville has always had an appeal to me, as has been North Knoxville (up Broadway heading towards Karns) with it’s large old hippie population that lives and works in the area.
    And it’s my understanding that Downtown has improved by leaps and bounds since I left in ’08.

    However, nothing can compare to going down to The Parthenon on a warm fall day, or having a plate of Nashville Hot Chicken at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken (or Prince’s Hot Chicken if you don’t mind the wait.)

  4. I’ve been in Knoxville for two years, studying a PhD. I moved here from Philadelphia (before that, London); my girlfriend, from New Orleans. It’s been tough. Things are small in Knoxville, apart from the sprawl. Shuck’s happy hour is good, however, and the symphony orchestra is a fun evening out (grad students at UT can get very cheap tickets–they don’t check for student ID at the door).

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