Downtown Knoxville, TN

Downtown Knoxville is a compact and well defined 1/2 square mile area set between 11th street, the Tennessee River, and  the inner belt. Like most American cities, dwtn is the oldest part of Knoxville and contains many of its oldest buildings. Downtown was largely a mixed residential commercial area until the 1890s. By the 1890s with the growth of the manufacturing sector,  Downtown  transformed into a place of commerce and wholesaling that sprung up along the railroad spreading out from Old City. The City quickly became the third largest wholesaling center by volume in the South. Like most American Dwtn’s the post WWII area wasn’t kind to Downtown Knoxville and Center City began to decline. Many efforts were made to bring back Dwtn. The first notable success was the 1982 World’s Fair. This left a legacy of a many new parks on Dwtn’s western Edge, a new convention center, museum, and the Sunsphere Observation Deck. Major positive changes to Downtown really picked up in the early 2000s with the renovation of Market Square, revitalization of the arts, and construction of a cineplex along Gay Street. Businesses and restaurants have continued to grow since then and Downtown Knoxville is now one of the best mid-sized Downtowns in America.

I attribute much of Dwtn Knoxville’s success to its compact size, density, and lack of widespread urban renewal. Like Dwtn Pittsburgh this compactness and intact urban fabric made it much easier to breathe new life and vibrancy into Dwtn. Dwtn also has a great array of for-sale condo options, lots of cultural and retail amenities, good parks & schools, a strong civic heart at Market Place, and a wonderful main street along Gay. However, as with almost all urban places in American, there are areas for improvement for Dwtn Knoxville including the need for more apartments and population, better bike infrastructure, more college presence, larger employment base, and an urban grocery store.

Click here to view my Downtown Knoxville Album on Flickr


* Other than the edges of Dwtn very comfortable sidewalks and great ADA infrastructure.
* Not best  grid but blocks are short, good connections, and wide boulevards are only on the edge of Dwtn.
* Great economic diversity with a sizable mix of young professionals and those under the poverty line.
* Good parks overall, especially Market Square (one of the best civic centers for a mid-sized city), the sizable collection of parks from the World’s Fair on the western edge a couple small-median sized parks spread throughout. 
* Decent K-12 schools 2 great high schools along the edges of Dwtn and several smaller grade schools.
* Good # and variety of for-sale hsg but generally pretty expensive. Plenty of 1-bed condos selling btwn 200K-500K, 2-beds sell anywhere btwn 300K-1.5M, Lots of 3 & 4 beds for a dwtn selling btwn 400K-2 M.
* Several affordable apt bldgs dwtn.
* Overall, generally a safe dwtn. Some crime and a lot of homeless seems to occur, but lots of eyes of the street.
* One of the most buzzing mid-sized Dwtns in America.
* Great cultural amenities Dwtn include a ton of restaurants, bars, and cafes; several breweries, tons of art galleries, a full cineplex, several performing arts theaters (a couple of them historic), a good # of museums and historic sites, and the Sunsphere observatory.
* Major regional amenities include the Knoxville Convention Center, the World’s Fair Exhibition Hall, UT Convention Center. The Knoxville Arena is located just east of Dwtn. Also a good concentration of government offices dwtn.
* Good retail amenities include a couple small grocerias, a couple drug stores, tons of boutiques & clothing stores, and home good stores, a couple book stores, a couple antique stores, tons of banks, lots of dessert joints, a couple gyms, several churches, and a dwtn post office and library.
* Much of Dwtn historic fabric has been preserved especially around Market Sq., Gay St., and Union Ave.
* Great imageability and sense of place esp. for a mid-sized dwtn.
* Good overall urban massing with limited surface lots and most bldgs up to the street.
* Pretty good tree canopy for a Dwtn area.


* Decent but not great density.
* Quality transit just extends to a  handful of neighborhoods surrounding Dwtn. Very extensive highway system considering how small Knoxville is. But most urbanist would not consider this a positive.
* Overall bike infrastructure is sub par in Knoxville. Limited bike sharing system. Limited dedicated bike lanes Dwtn, and some in the urban district. On a positive note, a couple lengthy bike lanes running along the Tennessee River, and a good east to west route.
* Limited racial and generational diversity dwtn.
* Rentals dwtn are a bit limited and generally on the pricey side. 1-beds lease btwn 1.5K-2.5K, 2-beds in the 2Ks & 3Ks, and 3-beds is very limited.
* Only a handful of satellite colleges amounting to maybe 1K students dwtn, but 28K students at University of Tennessee is only a mile away, and sometimes 1/2 away from dwtn.
* Okay employment numbers with around 22K employees dwtn. Office vacancy rate also seems to be dropping, but that’s pre-covid numbers.
* No grocery store dwtn.
* Urban in fill is okay. New mixed-use in-fill is along the edges of Dwtn. Most of Dwtn is in-fill from the 60s-90s. Big fan of the traditional in-fill of the courthouse. The tower lines up beautifully with Market St.
* Skyline is generally pretty bland, but thanks to the Sunsphere its not terrible.

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