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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UTK vs Harvard

This is the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. People in Knoxville refer to the university as UT. I call it UTK because, as a worldly Bostonian, I’ve heard of the state of Texas.

(Not the University of Texas)
(Not the University of Texas)

At first, UTK might seem forbidding and oppressive, at once dominating and sucking the life force out of the local area. However, the Bostonian visitor should feel quite comfortable, one she recognizes that UTK’s place in Knoxville is a lot like Harvard University’s place in her own city.

(Harvard University, the snootiest place on Earth)
(Harvard University, Snootiest Place on Earth)

Like Harvard, UTK owns almost everything around it and exerts an undue influence over the local community. The difference, as far as I can tell, is that Harvard’s goal as an institution is to mold successive generations of world leaders. UTK’s goal, on the other hand, is to support successive generations of its reasonably decent, but not spectacular, college football team.

Depending on your opinions on the quality of world leadership in the 21st century, this means that UTK is either slightly or substantially less evil than Harvard.