A Decade of Surprising Twists and Turns Continues

The Selfie That Started it All, June 2010

It was ten years ago today that I started a blog to fill a void that I felt on a personal level. Urban Woman and I were spending large amounts of time in downtown Knoxville and dreamed of one day moving to the center city. A chance breakfast, a dreamy walk on Labor Day 2009 and a special property for sale escalated our plans and by November 2009, we’d moved downtown. In those short weeks in between I wondered if we were crazy, if we would be safe and if our new home would hold its value.

We’d looked online and found very little being written about day-to-day life in downtown Knoxville. By June 2010, a friend of mine, young adult author Deborah Wiles, convinced me I should write a blog about life in the city. On June 1, 2010, I published a selfie taken with a point-and-shoot camera and dubbed myself Knoxville Urban Guy.

I had no plans beyond writing fun little articles about the city we loved. A lot of the early posts were silly. The first was just a really long paragraph with no photos. There were certainly people who knew far more about downtown and some of them made sure I understood that fact. Still, I was startled to find I actually had readers. Several dozen of them! I’d hoped people considering a move to downtown might find something I wrote, but the well was much deeper than that: Downtown was capturing the attention of more people than it had in years.

But I also love cities because they are real. There’s no Cinderella’s castle, there’s no sanitized safe-zone or cul-de-sac. I wrote 26 articles the first month and they became steadily more serious. In June and July I wrote about homelessness and other urban issues. In August 2010 I wrote a series about the neo-nazi march downtown and got a lot of notice for the photographs and the coverage. More readers joined.

Preston Davis Assaults Urban Guy, Krutch Park, Knoxville, August 2012

I wrote about businesses and development starting early on. I didn’t know any of the business owners or developers and they didn’t know me, so the articles were often just a photo and a description. There were very few interviews. I worked on my writing, my photography and my knowledge of business, development and urban design.

It was 2013 when a friend suggested I could have ads and make money. I’d tried Google ads and the Amazon affiliate program, but I made about a dollar a day from those sources and they simply were not worth the trouble. I pitched ads to Visit Knoxville, Preservation Pub, Tree and Vine and Knoxville Downtown Realty. They said yes, and the hobby became a business.

By May 2014, I was earning enough money that I felt I could take the chance and retire from my job in public schools. It was a great decision and the blog continued to grow. I got spots on local news stations. Benny Smith gave me the wonderful opportunity to host a radio show for three years. I got to work with Jack Neely in a series of videos (included in the tabs above) on Knoxville Weekend.

I’ve published nearly 3,000 articles and over 30,000 photographs. I’ve covered major stories and stories so minor, I was probably the only person who cared. I’ve covered a fascinating range of topics and I’ve gotten to know (and introduced readers to) some of the best humans I’ll ever hope to meet. Readership has grown into the thousands and I’ve learned so much from so many of you and, thankfully, become friends with many of you.

Knoxville Urban Guy does Pecha Kucha, Relix Theater, Knoxville, November 2014

One thing that has always been steady throughout the ten years has been a city that just keeps getting better. We had just come out of the great recession when I started writing and the biggest challenge was keeping up with businesses as they opened and developments as they were announced. There was so much to celebrate. I’d considered having a big party on the event of the website’s ten year mark and the incredible decade for the city.

As always, what happens next in this journey is rarely what I expect. It’s not possible to throw a party in the middle of a pandemic. I never imagined just a short time ago that I would be writing about a medical and economic crisis. An empty downtown was a relic of the past, not something possible in 2020. Until it was the reality.

As if a pandemic wasn’t enough to keep our focus, a new wave of protest has swept the country in response to some of the most painful video most of us have ever seen, as a grown man called for his mother while dying underneath the knee of a policeman. This weekend, that distant event impacted our city.

On Friday night an organized protest was held by our local Black Lives Matter group. Mayor Kincanon issued a statement and at least one city official addressed the group outside police headquarters as their protest began with a prayer. A caravan of cars drove through the city with some walking down Gay Street. Unlike some protests around the country, it was peaceful. No property was damaged. No one was arrested.

Saturday, I noticed a conversation on social media about a protest for that night. No one seemed to know who was behind the action. None of the local groups, including Black Lives Matter, claimed responsibility. The Facebook event notice was reported and taken down. Several other red flags appeared, including that it was planned for dark.

For the second consecutive night, Knox County Sheriff’s Department helicopters flew in patterns around downtown, making for an ominous atmosphere. Meanwhile, downtown was more packed on a Saturday night than it had been for months. Not quite like old times, but very active. As the crowds cleared out, a group formed on Market Square sometime around 11:30. Over the next hour or so, planters and garbage cans were overturned and two windows were smashed – to the Chamber of Commerce and Ruby Sunshine. The group later did some damage on the Clinch Avenue viaduct.

A man was arrested attempting to leave the Market Square Garage. He had ten guns of various sorts and an assortment of drugs in his car. Police haven’t made clear whether he was involved in the riot. One other person was arrested for throwing an object and hitting a police officer. Footage was released by Ruby Sunshine of the people throwing objects at their window. There were claims of police using pepper shots of some sort to disperse the crowd.

While the coverage of the protests around the country have focused on the black participants, given that a black man’s death was the trigger, a theme is emerging that white people, whether allies or intruders, Antifa or White Nationalists, are behind much of the looting and destruction. The man leaving the garage with the guns was white. Many of the people in the footage outside Ruby Sunshine are white. A white man has been identified as the arsonist who burned the Nashville Courthouse.

So, 2020 just keeps on giving and the topics I’ll be covering continue to evolve. It’s not where I thought we’d be after a decade. In the midst of the chaos of protests, helicopters and a riot, of the fear and uncertainty of a pandemic, and the economic struggle in its wake, it’s easy to become discouraged and worry that we’ll not recover the momentum we’ve enjoyed for the last ten years.

But we will. Good things are happening even as we have our struggles. I wondered about safety a decade ago and despite everything above, I continue to feel very safe in our downtown. New businesses are waiting to emerge, artists are making great art and development continues. Most of all, I have great confidence in the good people in this city. We will survive. We will thrive, once again. All of us together, white and black, old and young, and yes, even masked and unmasked.

I’ll end this with a video posted to Facebook on Saturday night. Yassin, one of those great humans I’ve met on this journey, was called downtown because of a disturbance outside his falafel business. It apparently wasn’t related to the other mayhem and was soon resolved, but that put him downtown in the aftermath the craziness on the square and he posted a very emotional video appealing to the better angels in our government and of each other. Welcome to the second decade of Inside of Knoxville.

 

 

Comments

  1. Tom Ballard says

    Great column, Alan. You make a very important contribution to our community.

    • David Maynard says

      So impressed with the peaceful protest down Gay St Friday night. Our country needs to mirror Knoxville people. Great City because of who lives here. The rioters and thugs are paid actors who are trying to shut down our great country. Let’s stop them in their tracks. Loved the video.

  2. I am so thankful the damage was limited to just a few windows. We are very lucky for this.

    We are also lucky that our local chapter of BLM (who the children from the other night are NOT affiliated with) has been able to get our leadership’s attention peacefully. Here’s hoping they listen.

  3. Aaron Thompson says

    Thank you Alan! This blog has been such a treasure for our city and so useful for us business owners.

  4. We’ve only been in Knoxville 4 years and you have played a key role in our connection to this great community. Thank you for your contribution and know that the best is yet to come!

  5. Ken Sparks says

    Alan, congrats on your blog’s growth and lasting longer than some local newspapers. Thanks for years of tracking, reporting, vivid descriptions, great photos, and positive impact on a city that grew into its own identity. It will just be a matter of time before downtown activity regains momentum. Hang in there another 10 years!

  6. Angela Roberts says

    Thankful for you—and this blog!

  7. Alan, you are a treasure. I have so much admiration.

  8. Alan, congratulations on a decade of enlightening work. Always interesting.

  9. Thank you, Alan. Thank you, Yassin. Stay safe, stay well, work for change and justice!

  10. Happy 10th Anniversary, Alan. Your blog has been a constant source of pleasure since we moved here 3 1/2 years ago.
    And thank you Yassin for your kindness and inspiration.

    • Happy Anniversary. We are fortunate. I met a young man from Atlanta with his parents who plans to attend UT in the fall. I told him to follow this if he wants to know what’s up. Yeah Yassin!

  11. Allen,

    Congrats on 10 years, and looking forward to being around for the next 10. It was certainly crazy here on market square at 1:00 AM, and yes they “KPD” from market square stage in the direction of gay street, did fire pepper bullets to disperse the immature, unruly kids who were not parented very well

  12. Wow, 10 years! That’s awesome! When I moved here 20 years ago, downtown was bleak and depressing. I was blessed enough to get a job downtown and would spend my lunch hour walking around downtown. Empty buildings everywhere. To me, it was heartbreaking. And then, almost magically, it started to come alive! Stores and restaurants opened up and Market Square became alive! It was great! Sadly, the place I work for moved from downtown in 2010 and I don’t get down there as much as I’d like, but you, in your Storytelling and photos, bring downtown to me, and I appreciate it very much! Stay safe, keep writing and thank you!

  13. Scott Carpenter says

    Happy 10th! Thank you for your work.

  14. Congratulations, Alan! 10 years is a long time, and you’ve done important work throughout. Here’s to the next 10!

  15. Adam Parish says

    Congratulations on the longevity and taking a risk on downtown.

  16. 10 years where does the time go? I have always loved your blog and it’s even better knowing you personally. Keep up the great work and here’s to another 10 years.

  17. Mitchell Greene says

    It couldn’t have happened for a better person, hard work and well deserved success! Keep on keeping on!

  18. Gail Mitchell says

    Thank you Allen for keeping us informed and for the positive spirit you continue to have. We believe in the awesomeness of Knoxville right along with you and are continuing to support the businesses, the people and the goodness that I know is really Knoxville

  19. Thank you Alan!!! With the decline of KNS during the last 10 years, your coverage of development, events, and business is vitally important, keep on trucking!

    • Right? It’s amazing how one person is more capable than an entire newspaper and 5 or 6 local TV stations.

      Happy anniversary and keep up the good work! 🙂

  20. Congratulations, my friend, for 10 excellent years of a body of work that gets better by the day. You know this blog was the spark that got us to move downtown and we are oh, so glad! The downtown Knoxville community is special, and I hope leaders and community members will listen and do the work for justice, as Yassin says.

  21. Good times my friend!! lucky that have you around!

  22. Congrats on the 10th anniversary. I’m glad that those couple of posts I wrote didn’t ruin the whole thing. 8 )

  23. Thanks for all your work and passion, Alan. I think I’ve been on board since almost the beginning. Congrats on all the inroads you’ve made.

  24. M. Janice Mitchell says

    Thank you so much, Alan, for your blog. I pass it along to my friends and family who are interested in what happens in the downtown area. I have been a reader since you began writing. Scruffy City Orchestra appreciates all you did for us when we began our concerts at First Baptist Church downtown. We have relocated to Sacred Heart Cathedral as part of their Music Concert Series and we hope you will venture a little further out when we are again able to come back together for rehearsals and concerts. Your blog is always insightful, readable, the pictures are terrific and I’m envious of your living downtown! Perhaps one day……..

  25. Congrats on the 10 years, keep up the great work!! Love seeing your posts and photos!

  26. tthurman says

    It’s a shame some of the old comments are missing, but what a trip down memory lane. I recall stumbling upon this site one day after lunch and commenting to a co-worker that someone needs to start writing about all the change going on down here. Following that, I did a quick google search and was shocked to see someone was!

    Hoping for an equally successful decade ahead, keep up the great work!

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Thanks Mr. T. You were one of the early ones. It broke my heart that some of the early comments were lost.

  27. Oslo Cole says

    Alan, it has been such a pleasure getting to know you through your blog and in real life. Congratulations on your success!

  28. Bob Sutton says

    Bravo Alan!!!!! You may get a statue some day. Maybe You and Jack Neely having a beer and talking with Mahasti, Annie DeLisle, and the late great Andi Ray!

  29. Brady Watson says

    Thanks for all you do, Alan. You are appreciated by many!

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