When I started writing articles for Inside of Knoxville nearly five years ago, my intention was to inform interested people about life in the city. There seemed to a void in available information. Outside of Michael Haynes’ excellent “Shot of Urban” and other random articles in Metro Pulse or the News Sentinel, there wasn’t much being written.
I didn’t know how many people would be interested and I couldn’t have imagined it would be such a large number. A conversation has evolved among us as many of us have met in person and we’ve gotten to know others by their comments here. I’ve referred to the readers of this blog as the “Urban Nation,” starting when there were only a few dozen of us. Now in the course of any month there are tens of thousands of you. It feels like more of an “Urban Nation,” than ever.
I truly value the conversations we’ve had and the tone of civility that most of us maintain the majority of the time. Disagreements naturally arise and civility becomes sometimes becomes strained, but I feel that dialog is important, particularly when we disagree. Some of the conversations have been very lively. Most recently, “Wayfinding” led to a large number of comments. We had a large, sometimes heated, discussion about the Langley Parking Garage and other great discussions about business closures at the end of the year, public transportation, and development (recently including the White Lily Building, for example).
We’ve debated the Baptist Hospital Plans, highway removal, the viability and need for independent newspapers, all the issues addressed by the Urban Land Institute, preservation, restaurants opening and the range or lack-of-range of food choices in the city, restoration, parking, parking and parking. The list goes on and on, though there are themes that emerge: Urban Design, Business, Development, and Preservation. Much of the discussion is fueled by our vision for the future of the city.
While I greatly value these conversations, there is something limiting about online exchanges. It’s helpful to see people face-to-face. Tone of voice, body-language and inflexion inform so much of the messages we receive from others. Online conversations are wrought with delays, interruptions and jumbled threads. We don’t know who is who and what level of expertise or knowledge they bring to the conversation.
With all of this in mind, I’ve been approached a number of times by readers who would like to extend the conversation in person. Most recently Jonathan Sexton of the Entrepreneur Center approached me and offered a forum in which that could happen: we could take the conversation to a live audience.
While details are being considered, like whether to have panels or a lecture format, we have reached the conclusion that the time is right for a public engagement on issues related to the city. The first meeting will be announced soon and it will take place at the Entrepreneur Center. This will be a free, but ticketed event as the room can only comfortably accommodate about fifty people. If all goes well and the interest is there, we may schedule future forums.
What we can use from you, either in comments below or via email to Knoxvilleurbanguy@gmail.com, is your suggestion of a topic or topics. It can be large (fast speed internet for the city, or “what is good urban design?”) or small and specific (parking in the Old City) or in-between (how other cities cope with panhandling). Any of the topics I mentioned above are fair game as well as any you generate. Remember, keep the focus on the city and on the present or, particularly, the future.
I would also be interested in your suggestions for panelists or speakers. If you know the perfect person for your suggested topic, let us know. Our hope is to not only have some lively discussion, but to have people on hand who are experts in the areas discussed, whether they be developers, city officials, business owners, architects, urban designers, homeless advocates or others.
As soon as we set a date and a mechanism for ticketing, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, let us hear from you!