“Yes! Knoxville, New Non-Profit to Support Better Urban Design

Who advocates for good urban design and planning in Knoxville? Hopefully there are people embedded in the governmental structure of both the city and county doing so. The professional architect’s associations at the local and state level certainly do so, as does our local East Tennessee Community Design Center. I’m sure there are others. But is it enough? Are we happy with the design and planning that we see? Many of the above groups struggle with competing pressures that can sometimes result in less than the best development.

Into the conversation comes Yes! Knoxville, a relatively new group, started last year and spearheaded by local desigand urban enthusiast Dustin Durham which formed in 2023. The group obtained their 501(c)3 status earlier this year and you should see their profile start to increase over the coming months. Dustin feels there should be a consistent, cohesive voice to address housing, transportation, and community spaces.

The group hopes to be a visible force and loud voice for helping our city make the best choices available as we plan and develop our urban infrastructure, neighborhoods, and beyond. Promising to be a group oriented toward action, they are hoping to influence Knoxville to say “yes” to better and more transportation options, to be more open to a range of housing possibilities, and satisfying community spaces that are easily accessible to everyone.

Yes! Knoxville Game, Jacks, Knoxville, May 2024
Bike Month
Yes! Knoxville Social Hours

The group recently held an event on First Friday at Jacks as they begin to spread the word about the organization and attempt to get as many people involved as possible. Dustin sat at a table encouraging people to join in playing a game called “Get Around Town.”

Each of us were assigned a neighborhood which dictated how often, if at all, public transportation was provided, whether there was a great system of protected bike lanes or few, if any, and whether the neighborhood had a good system of safe sidewalks. The participants also got to attempt to influence City Council as they voted on these issues, as well as housing. The upshot? Players with fewer and poorer options for getting around town scored higher on stress levels. Just like real life when we don’t have good options.

The group is completely local and motivated by the idea that Knoxville can do better and they see transportation, housing, and public spaces as intertwined issues. While some people feel that greater density makes traffic more difficult, the group suggests that increasing development sprawl is that makes for more congestion. Public transit works effectively only with dense development. Expect to see them launching educational efforts on these topics, as well as advocating with city and county officials, as well as developers.

The group has launched campaigns on five fronts to kick off their efforts:

  • Home: To fix the housing crisis, we have to fix our zoning.
  • Build: Change land development in order to provide more housing and make our city more walkable.
  • Place: Make more beloved and economically strong places that are walkable and pedestrian-focused.
  • B4: (Better Budgets for Bikes and Buses) People deserve options to travel around town in a safe and efficient way that isn’t a car.
  • Raise: We should demand more than the bare minimum as we design our infrastructure.
Dustin Durham with Yes! Knoxville, Jacks, Knoxville, May 2024

You can learn more about each of these on their website. More campaigns will be added. The site also offers an option to donate, as well as to subscribe for email updates. You’ll also find a list of resources to learn more about the issues of concern. The group hosts a social hour at Shulz Brau, for likeminded people once once each month and you’ll find the dates and times here. Your next chance to meet the people behind the group will be this Sunday at Open Streets.

Dustin said,

 Our entire board of directors is extremely excited to be part of YES! Knoxville and begin the desperately-needed work of educating folks on how to get involved in demanding better from the leaders that shape our built environment. Whether its increasing options for housing across town, giving folks safe and efficient ways to travel throughout the city, or making spaces that are focused on people first and building community, we know the hunger is out there for these things and we’re glad we can be a tool for people to utilize. Here’s to saying, YES!’