Knoxville a Finalist to Host the 2022 Congress for the New Urbanism

Knoxville Skyline

The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) holds an annual gathering for members and supporters of the idea that cities are best when they are walkable, include mixed use, are sustainable, and encourage healthier lifestyles. In other words, similar to towns and cities before the last seventy years of auto-centric development. The Congress usually attracts about 1,600 people from around the country and the world.

This year the conference will be in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The 2021 congress will be held in Oklahoma City, and Knoxville has been announced as a finalist for the 2022 convention. It will mark the 30th anniversary of the organization, which was founded in 1992. Visit Knoxville and the East Tennessee Community Design Center have teamed to make the case for Knoxville via an application as well as a presentation in Washington, D.C. in a few weeks.

Dustin Durham, along with Visit Knoxville’s Sarah Rowan, will make the presentation in Washington. Dustin pointed out that 2022 will also be the 40th anniversary of the Knoxville World’s Fair, an event that was very much about ushering in Knoxville’s future. The group is currently building a host committee and establishing the groundwork for fundraising should they be chosen. If selected, the local group would need to raise $150,000 over the next two years, which would be matched by funds from a regional group and the CNU.

Knoxville Skyline from the South, September 2018

Dustin said that Visit Knoxville has estimated the economic impact of hosting the event would be about $2.2 million, but the point of the conference would be to show Knoxville to a national and international audience of planners and urbanists. Congress participants would then spread the word about the good things happening in Knoxville, such as the Urban Wilderness, expanded bike paths, trolley and transit efforts, replacing parking lots with buildings, public/private partnership efforts, efforts toward sustainability, and the preservation of the history our oldest buildings.

To this end, those in attendance will be housed at several downtown hotels, and will have the opportunity to attend events in multiple venues, similar to the set-up for the Big Ears Festival. Venues they hope to utilize include the Tennessee Theatre, the Bijou Theatre, The Square Room, the Emporium, Jackson Terminal, the Standard, the Holiday Inn conference space, and the Knoxville Museum of Art. By design, participants will become familiar with the downtown fabric. Excursions will also be planned for participants to enjoy the bike trails and the Urban Wilderness, as well as other areas of the city and beyond.

Knoxville Skyline from the South Knoxville Bridge, June 2017

In addition to spreading the word to those gathered, it offers great opportunities for our community to build on its success, by hearing new ideas and being encouraged to take the next steps to make our city better. Local planners, designers, and architects will have the opportunity to gather ideas from experts in the field.

The Congress also selects a legacy project in which they team with the host committee to identify a specific location in the city that could benefit from investment and planning. They help develop a broad plan and assist with the first $15,000 investment to begin raising funds. It’s just one way the Congress can serve as a local catalyst for improved urban design.

Ultimately, the hope is that it elevates community support for and understanding of good urban design. Dustin hopes that “having the conference here can signify that urban planning is valued here, as well as in the southeast and in Appalachia.” He hopes one of the outcomes of hosting the Congress would be to open a local chapter for Knoxville. “The thought leaders will be here and can be addressed directly and they can see some of the good work here. Equally important is the psychological impact that Knoxville hosted the Congress and shared our journey.”

Downtown Knoxville, Spring 2014

The local group also envisions partnering with other regional cities and providing free events to involve a wider audience. Free events might include lectures, tours, and public film screenings. Dustin feels hosting the CNU would be an opportunity to “speed up our own trajectory toward good urban planning.”

The winning city to host the 2022 CNU will be announced at this year’s conference in June. If you’d be interested in helping, either through a donation of money or time, reach out to Dustin at


  1. knoxvilles skyline? ha! knoxville doesnt have much of a skyline. the smaller buildings that are being built are ruining it. i remember back when the first tennessee bank building was being built then the riverview tower and i thought ok this city is starting to build some skycrapers that look nice from a distance and maybe more will be coming. and dont get me wrong, while i know that skyscrapers dont define a city really, most will only be known when you travel by their skyline or are actually known by their skyline. and no i dont think a lot of old buildings should be torn down to make way for skyscrapers, i do think some should have been and i do think preversationists have gone too far, when a lot of garages and other buildings are defined as historic, when actually they are nothing but ugly old buildings. i know a lot of the developments are small ugly condos of no more than 4 to 6 stories and are downright plain and look so much alike. and the decision to build around the supreme court building is just something i dont understand at all. i guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but i love old buildings with class, and the old supreme court building is just a plain looking building to me, and yes i know all about the tennessee marble there and all of that, but i think more could be done with that site. these small ugly buildings are taking up most available space to do much more downtown and it doesnt have much room to grow with anyway. i know you really cant see downtown from a distance until you get right up on it. i just have a different vision for downtown i guess but i do applaud the ones that are opening up these small businesses. i guess the size of the city, i mean population wise means there arent going to be much of a grander vision until our population starts to boom. a truly great city has more vision than what the knoxville leaders seem to have right now. and i read all of the stuff about recode knoxville and the north knox, east knox south knox and west knox plans, but i dont see much happening here because of the lack of investment on a much greater scale. i dont wanna hear any flack, but i will. i bet i have lived here longer than any of you who will read this, because i was born here and raised here and have kept up with downtown for years, so just let it go dears. you probably think i think that knoxville only needs skyscrapers to define itself, but not really. i just think as far as skylines go, there isnt much of one. small low buildings downtown just doesnt do it for me.

    • Those two buildings were financed by a man who was later convicted of fraud in schemes that became very common in the mid to late 80s know as the Savings and Loan scandal. The fallout from that along with a few other bad luck events lead to the crippling of Knoxville for quite sometime.

      I would like to see the city go a little more vertical too. But there are to many vacant lots and the property value hasn’t increased to a point to make that viable. If you notice all but one of the projects going on around downtown is being constructed of wood. Wood buildings can get you in the 8-12 story size. Any bigger and steel is necessary and the price goes up tremendously.

      I don’t know if I would think much about the high rise on Hill Ave being delayed. Jackson Ave and Broadway viaduct construction just started. I heard it was going to start almost 2 years ago. The Regas was 9-12 months behind because of soil problems. Stuff happens.

      I really hope we can attract the CNU. It seems like a good way to bring some fresh eyes to what Knoxville has already achieved and get a lot of ideas going forward. When I first moved to Knoxville I remember thinking well if things go wrong with my car at least I can get around and for almost 5 years I used my car two times a week.

      • nice gentemanly comments, the kind i like jordan. yeah it is not that i want knoxville to become a skyscraper megalopolis or anything like that, i just think it has the potential to be a more dramatic, more beautiful city with more, especially with the beauty of the mountains as a backdrop. and i know 20 something story buildings qualify as skysrapers as far as i know, i would like to see dramatic, beaufiful high rise buildings being construced here. and again, with the small buildings being built, so much space is being taken up. i am not anti new businesses, but my vision for what, say central ave could be with a few skyscrapers thrown in here and there, including condos, and/or apartments, is just what i would like to see. but this also goes for magnolia. chapman highwyay is another issue because of the terrain once you get on the south side of henley with the bluffs and everything is not conducive for taller buildings.but i think there could be more taller structures built down on the river that would look so much better than what is going up there now. and a destination attraction down there would be great, say a ferris wheel or something like that, and i mean a large one. i think it would really be successful there. anyway thats just my opinioin.

  2. The zoning for downtown allows for unlimited building height, so I do not think there is a lack of vision from the recent adopted zoning ordinance. There is a proposed 26-story building (The T at Riverfront) proposed adjacent to the Henley Street Bridge. Something you can look forward to in the future.

    It is possible that we see taller buildings constructed in the near future once the majority of our existing downtown structures are renovated and the demand continues to rise for more residential and office space.

    • well i am beginning to doubt the t will ever be built. it is completely past the timeline of construction. i keep up with all things knoxville so i am up to date on this. it was was supposed to have been finished by now. i live nearby and i am beginning to wonder what is going on with it. and like i said, the smaller buildings are taking up space which downtown is running out of.

      • Welcome to Knoxville. Where everyone announces a start date for construction and twiddles their thumbs for 2 years before the first hole is dug. With extremely few exceptions. Mostly storage units.

  3. Joe Hultquist says

    This is exciting! CNU is a great organization with a long track record of bring practitioners and enthusiasts together to promote and enhance great urban development. It’s been years since I’ve been to a CNU conference, but I can attest to the value of these events to the attendees. I can see significant benefits, especially long term, to holding CNU 2023 in Knoxville.

  4. Kenneth Moffett says

    These comments largely miss the point of the efforts of the CNU, which is concerned, among many other things, with human scale and walkability in city centers and neighborhoods. I recommend a look at the organization’s charter:

  5. What a great opportunity to highlight the recent growth in Downtown Knoxville and the surrounding bedroom communities. I think having feedback from outside Architects, Engineers, City Planners, and elected officials could provide as a catalyst for some future projects and neighborhood development to better connect our various districts. I think getting selected as the host city might spur some smaller development to move forward in the intermediate, which would be great since these are the parcels that connect our city and provide a better environment for pedestrian corridors.

  6. Regina Santore says

    When in Chengdu, China in November, I saw a beautifully done example of promoting seamless walkability involving a fast central thoroughfare like Henley St. Rather than just a single elevated pedestrian walkway as we now have, they made an entire 2nd level over the busiest portion of the road, with pedestrian accesses at every major corner, and desirable eateries, shops, etc. on the platform. The thoroughfare was not in a tunnel, you could see it (and if in a car, you could see all of the center city as you passed by) but pedestrian crossing was blocked off. They had conveyor belt ramps to accommodate mobility issues. What stuck me, though, was how desirable they made the 2nd level over the road. You really wanted to go see what was up there. It made development of upper levels of the nearby buildings (think UT Conference Center) a no-brainer; their 2nd levels of all those buildings were thriving. The connection across was so seamless that you quickly stopped noticing the fast street pulsing below. If love to see the CNU come here and kickstart that project on Henley, with an eye toward doing something similar over James White Pkwy so we can finally add the Coliseum area to the fabric of downtown.

  7. There is one prime reason for CNU to come to Knoxville…most of you know the person on the extreme left of the photo contained in the link from CNU 1.

    His talent and leadership has had an out sized affect on the redevelopment of Knoxville, and subsequently, our new found focus on sustainable, urban design and development locally. Ironically, most of the leaders in this photograph have been to Knoxville.

  8. Get Jack Neely involved. He is ideal for a talk to CNU connecting the history of Knoxville (including how the Scruffy City pulled of a World’s Fair) with the walkable potential of this place.

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