The Twelve Best Things About Downtown Knoxville

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I know it hauls a lot of emotional freight that it can’t always carry,but at least it tries in the right way. It hasn’t been successfully commercialized to the extent of the other holidays. We don’t feel pressured to find the perfect Thanksgiving present or to select the perfect Thanksgiving clothes. If you send or receive a Thanksgiving card it’s more likely to be a genuinely thoughtful expression rather than an obligatory sentiment. It’s a quiet, reflective time set aside for family. At least that’s how I imagine it. Sometimes the reality is a little different.

It’s also an odd blend of the spiritual or religious and the state. Normally a blend of my spiritual life (or yours) and my country makes me nervous for my country and my church. This, however, seems to hit just the right note – at least to me. It’s something that the country comes together around, even if it is built on a national myth – at least it’s our myth and at the same time it has a spiritual side that doesn’t have to exclude anyone who feels just a little blessed, fortunate, lucky or thankful for everything we have.

That said, this blog is about Knoxville, right? So I’ll assume we’re all thankful for our families and I’ll cut right to the things I’m thankful for – or appreciate – regarding our little city by the river. In reverse order, after much struggle and strain, here is my top twelve:

12. A warm home off the streets – Many of our friends and neighbors downtown have no home and a home is a valuable thing far beyond the dollars it would bring. Those of us who can afford to live downtown are very blessed. Yes, we worked hard to be here, but many people work hard and can’t afford a home in the city.

11. Clean, well-lighted, safe streets and the people who make them that way. People who don’t live downtown may not realize the people who are up all hours of the night cleaning our streets, picking up our garbage, blowing our sidewalks and parking lots clean, responding to emergencies and keeping us safe.

10. A small, walkable city – We may not have everything downtown that we wish for, but everything that we have is easy to walk to. And it’s safe to get there.

9. Natural Environment: Natural beauty surrounds us. The mountains are minutes away, and while we have seasons, even in the middle of winter or the heat of summer, we’ll have days of respite and grace. When we get that true spring or fall day, with a slight chill in the air and deep blue skies, life in the city feels more perfect than ever.

8. Festivals and Parades – We have far too many to name including the Hola Festival, Chili Cookoff, Rossini Festival, Saint Patrick’s Day, Christmas Parade, Dogwood Arts, Veterans Day Parade, Brewer’s Jam and Kuumba. There is something (or multiple things) for everyone’s taste and each of these add to the cultural richness of our city.

7. TN Theater and the Bijou – How can you not love these special places that so many people have worked to preserve? I’ve attended shows in each for nearly thirty years and I loved them when they were more shabby than elegant and I love them still. Not only are they beautiful and acoustically excellent, but we are treated to an apparently never ending stream of amazing talent. This year I’ve seen R.B. Morris, Scott Miller, the Dirty Guv’nahs, Emmylou Harris and Donovan Frankenreiter and Jimmy Cobb in the Bijou and B.B. King at the Tennessee. Crosby, Stills and Nash, Sheryl Crow, Barenaked Ladies and many others performed at the Tennessee. Many cities don’t have one special venue like these and we have two!

6. Market Square – The soul of the city or just a great place to eat and people watch? Probably both.

5. Farmer’s Market – This has been spectacular this year. Supermarket vegetables don’t even look good to me, anymore. I’m already looking forward to spring for the return of these friends and their good food.

4. Great music, including WDVX, Sundown in the City, Scott Miller, R.B. Morris, The Dirty Guv’nahs, Robinella, Donald Brown, The Black Lillies, Indie Grrls, Bill, Rodney and all the buskers. We are very, very lucky.

3. Great food and coffee – We all have our favorites, but I love the food at Trio, Tomato Head, Nama, Latitude 35, La Costa, Cocoa Moon, Oodles, French Market, Dazzo’s and Café Four. We have an embarrassment of riches with good coffee at Java Old City, Coffee and Chocolate, Remedy, Downtown Grind, French Market and Trio.

2. People who add to our texture: Jack Neely, R.B. Morris, Ashley Capps, Tony Lawson, Zeus, Matt Morelock, business owners who risk everything to enrich our lives. There are also the developers who get slammed in the comments in the local press, but without whom most of us would not have a home. From Christopher Kendrick to David Dewhirst, they took chances and helped make our city livable.

1. Friends and acquaintances on the street. I knew I would like much of what I’ve included on this list, but one thing I did not expect was how many people I would come to know and look forward to meeting on the street. The image of a city as a place where people keep to themselves and avoid eye contact doesn’t seem to apply to Knoxville. I knew more people downtown in my first two weeks of living here than I knew in any neighborhood I ever lived in. It’s a comfort to know that you are always just around the corner from a friendly face.

So, there you are. What do you think deserves a place in this list? What would you leave off to keep it to an even dozen?

 Finally, I’m also thankful that you are a reader. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

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