What Makes a City Work? An Interview with Downtown Coordinator Rick Emmett

Knoxville, November 2014

Last fall in New York City Urban Brother and I talked about the improbability that a city can function. All that garbage. Every. Single. Day. Construction at every turn, but daily life must go on for commuters, pedestrians and businesses surrounding the development. Electricity, Internet access, fire and police support all have to be delivered seamlessly. Major special events are held and safety must be insured, as well as traffic flow before during and after.

It seems it should all fall apart. How can that many people in one spot get the food they need, the deliveries they have ordered and, in the case of that city, millions of people get transport every day to the spot they need or want to travel? Whey doesn’t poor wiring in one old building burn the whole business down.

On a smaller scale, every city does the same dance every day. Knoxville functions just as improbably as any. And we also mount major special events from parades to festivals and more. Downtown residents go to bed with little or no sign that a festival will happen the next day, awake and it is in place, go to bed again and it disappears. In our city, there’s even very little trash the next day to say that tens of thousands of people came downtown, were suitably festive and left again.

Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and Knoxville Skyline, 2014

So, it seems improbable, but it works. At least pretty well most of the time. How does that happen? It happens thanks to hundreds or more city employees who do nasty jobs all the way to planning office jobs. There are so many moving parts, someone has to coordinate it. That person doesn’t usually get a lot of attention, but Knoxville has a Downtown Coordinator in the person of 27-year city employee Rick Emmett.

Rick says he loves the wide range of challenges he confronts daily, likening it to a giant jigsaw puzzle that has to be fit together even as the pieces shift with the current situation. Whether it is identifying parking issues and building garages to rectify them or making sure a small business owner has the support they need from the city, Rick is generally a first stop for getting the issue resolved.

I had the opportunity to interview Rick this past Sunday morning on KnoxCentric on WUTK, 90.3 FM. Check out the interview and learn about Rick, more about what he does on a daily basis and what projects he’s watching right now, from the State Street Garage to the World’s Fair Park irrigation project.

Listen to the full interview here.