Why Vote? Does It Matter?

Urban Fairy Girl Votes Early

There are contradictory sentiments among the voting populace. I don’t mean conservative and liberal or Democrat and Republican. I mean the feeling that my vote doesn’t matter anyway and the opposing feeling of urgency to cast the next vote because we’re in a mess, or we could be if the wrong person is elected.

The former is nothing new: people of every era have sometimes felt powerless. For a large percentage of the planet, that is true. The urgency to record the next vote is also nothing new. Many people have felt that the country has been in a mess over the last decade or more. People on both sides have been very intent on impacting recent and coming elections.

Most of that intensity is centered on national politics. But what of local? Does it really matter who leads the city? We’ll still have potholes and schools won’t have enough money. Police won’t be paid enough. Crime and homelessness will persist. More people will talk about the Vols’ football season than about zoning. Mayors and council members come and go and who cares, right? Right? Maybe not.

Mayoral Candidate Forum, Knoxville News Sentinel Building, Knoxville, June 2019

Early voting ended yesterday and the primary election is this Tuesday. By that evening we’ll have at least narrowed the field. Six candidates for mayor will be reduced to two unless one gets over half the votes, in which case we’ll have named our next mayor. At large Seat C for city council will be reduced from five candidates to two, joining the other two candidates per open council seat for the general election in November. After the general election, we’ll have a new mayor and nearly half our city council will be new.

Only the harshest critics or staunchest cynics will say this isn’t a great era of progress and growth in the city. So much good has happened for us in recent years that it’s hard to enumerate the improvements. We’re in a good place. Will it last? The actions of these elected officials will go a long way toward determining the answer. If things turn sour, who will be best to guide us through rough times and bring us safely out the other side?

How will the newly elected officials deal with homelessness or the barely-housed? How well versed are they on the opioid epidemic and do they have a plan for it? Will they be able to build our police department to full strength? Can they guide us through the issues that divide us? Do they have a vision of what our city might become?

League of Women Voters, City Council Candidate Debates, News Sentinel Building, Knoxville, July 2018

Major decisions or tasks await this group. Will we have a new Safety Center? Should it be at the location of the former St. Mary’s Hospital? Will the city pay to have a baseball team back in town? Will the city demand good design in a new stadium? Will our city’s broadband continue to lag behind other cities? Can we attract great new companies to Knoxville? Can we establish a culture of entrepreneurship?

These things make more of a difference in our daily lives than politics at a national level, yet, many of us are more focused on national politics. Some of us could list close to twenty Democratic candidates for president but would struggle to name the five candidates for City Council Seat C. In focusing on the forest, we’re in danger of running into the tree.

You’ve got a weekend to cram before the exam. Who do you feel is best suited to continue this good run we’re on? It’s up to you. About 7500 people have early voted and about another 900 have requested absentee ballots (totals do not include the final day of voting). There are about 92,000 active voters in the city. Will ten or twenty percent decide your future?

If you need a quick look at the candidates for mayor you can look back at my article on a mayoral forum and for council you can skim back through my article on the council forum. No matter where you look, please look. Please vote. It really does matter. Polls are open from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm for the primary on Tuesday.

Adventure Town? Coolest City? It’s Just What We Do.

Knoxville continues to make various buzz lists. Our reputation as an adventure town has certainly grown in recent years with the installation of a zip line at Ijams, the Urban Wilderness in general, our extended greenways and our proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Much of what has happened to expand that reputation rests on the hard work of groups like the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club. Our increased profile also rests on all of us to spread the word.

How can you do that? I’m glad you asked. Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine and Sweetwater Brewing Company are presenting their eighth annual Top Adventure Towns contest. The contest covers towns and cities in the Mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States. The contest started yesterday and fine citizens such as yourselves are called upon to vote. Repeatedly.

Knoxville is in the “large town” category. That puts us against cities as wide-ranging as Chattanooga and Asheville, all the way to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland. The voting will happen in rounds and the field will narrow until a winner is declared. The winners in each category will be featured in the magazine’s end-of-the-year edition. Start voting now and let’s spread the word about the good thing we have going. Vote here and share this information around to all your friends.

So, we may be an “adventure town,” but where does the “cool” factor enter the equation? Afar magazine, in a recently published article suggests that we may just be cooler than some of the other Tennessee cities that get a lot of attention. We’re looking at you, Nashville.

The article starts with a little nod to our fallow period of a decade and more ago and goes on to note that we’ve become an outdoor mecca (see above) and have built something special centering on Market Square. There are lots of shout-outs to go around. The Oliver and its restaurants and bar, and the more-recent Tennessean get some ink.

J.C. Holdway, 501 Union Avenue, Knoxville, September 2016

Our range of culinary appeal is touted with J.C. Holdway, Blackberry Farm, Cruze Farm and Yassin’s also getting attention. Pretentious Glass and Beer and SoKno Taco also work their way in.¬†Music is featured with mentions of the Blue Plate Special, the Tennessee Theatre and Rhythm N’ Blooms.

When I started this blog, just a bit over nine years ago, so much of this didn’t exist and it is amazing to stop and think about the changes. The Daylight Building, now housing J.C. Holdway was very recently an abandoned and empty building. Yassin had not yet arrived to establish the Nicest Place in America. New restaurants opening in south Knoxville? Forget about it.

Rooftop Views from the top of the Future Home of Embassy Suites, 505 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2019

The other thing that strikes me is that this article could be re-written substituting other restaurants, activities and hotels and it would still be just as valid and strong an argument for the city’s cool factor. This truly is a special era in Knoxville and we need to cherish it. As Neil Young once said, “Long May You Run.”

One final note on the “cool” factor and tourism: I don’t have numbers to back it up, but it seems to me we’re getting a much larger contingent of national and international visitors. Local merchants tell me lots of stories of visitors to the city coming into their shops. Also to that point, I hear other languages almost every day on the street, whereas in the past that was a much less common occurrence. I really like the sound of that. It sounds like a growing city.

A Dopo Sourdough Pizza Serves Some of Knoxville’s Finest Pizza

(Written by¬†AppalachianGastroventures¬†for Inside of Knoxville. This is the third installment in their monthly series of restaurant reviews, allowing for further exploration of local restaurants after their opening. Check out their blog for many more … [Continue reading]

The Sixth Annual Asian Festival Moves to the World’s Fair Park

Five years ago, the first Knox Asian festival was barely noticed. Just a small, quiet event in Krutch Park extension, it was a modest beginning with one small stage and maybe a few hundred people drifting through. Each year since has brought a larger … [Continue reading]

Second Bell Festival 2019 Features Sunshine and Amazing Music

I cannot lie. It was hot. That said, it didn't rain, or more accurately, storm, like it did last year. Hydration was a priority and water was free for most of the day. There was a bit more shade, the food was good, the drinks were great. Staff and … [Continue reading]