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.

Fort Sanders- Knoxville’s Student Neighborhood

This evaluation includes just the Fort Sanders neighborhood and excludes any part of the University of Tennessee campus.

Fort Sanders is named for a Civil War-era Union bastion that once stood near the center of the neighborhood. Development came to Ft. Sanders in the late 19th century as a residential area for Knoxville’s growing upper and middle classes. With the advent of the automobile in the 1920s, Knoxville’s wealthier residents began to move to the suburbs and urban neighborhoods such as Fort Sanders began to decline. After World War II, UT grew significantly from 2K to 30K and by the 70s most of the homes in the neighborhood were converted to student housing. A few Victorians have been saved reminding one of what the neighbor used to be.

Due to its density and convenience to Downtown, Ft. Sanders is one of Knoxville’s better urban districts. But it has some real deficiencies including poor urban form along the main drag, Cumberland, lots of surface parking lots, poor bike infrastructure, less than inspiring architecture, and underwhelming retail amenities. But the district does have decent public transit & walkable schools in the area, a good array of moderate housing options (including many condos), several nice parks, and good cultural amenities. As the neighborhood is so college dominated, I don’t see this realistically being a family friendly place. But if urban amenities were improved and more quality housing provided, I can see it being an attractive place for young professionals and maybe empty nesters.

Click here to view my Ft. Sanders album on Flickr


* The district by far has Knoxville’s best density.
* Great access to Dwtn being only a mile away.
* Quality connectivity and decent public transit options.
* Decent schools options including a great public high school, several smaller private schools an ok rated grade school just north of Fort Sanders.
* Lots of rentals available at reasonable prices. 1-beds lease btwn $700-1K, 2-beds $900-$1,500, and 3-beds anywhere btwn 1K-2K.
* Lots of modest 1-bed condos selling in the 100K & 200KS. Some newer ones selling around 350-450K; lots of 2-bed condos selling anywhere from 150K-600K depending on age and condition; 3-beds btwn 250-600K. Condos on the lower end and SF more expensive; 4-beds SF homes anywhere btwn 350K-650K. Overall not a ton of SF for sale homes but so
* Ft. Sanders is generally pretty safe but a good amount of theft thanks to its location as a student neighborhood.
* While the urban massing isn’t great along Cumberland Ave, the Streetscaping is high quality.
* Good pedestrian activity thanks to student population but could be better if Cumberland Ave was more vibrant.
* Several nice parks on the edges of Ft. Sanders including the expensive World’s Fair Park, the large Sansom Sports Complex and a couple smaller parks.
* Good cultural amenities including many restaurants & cafes (college focused), several bars & night clubs, a couple live music venues, several art Museums (UT and Knoxville), several theaters at UT and easy access to Dwtn cultural amenities.
* Decent retail amenities including a couple grocerias, several drug stores, plenty of banks, a couple clothing stores, a UT book store, several dessert places, a post office, several UT libraries, a major hospital complex, and several churches.


* Bike infrastructure is surprisingly not that good in Fort Sanders.
* As this is a college dominated neighborhood, pretty poor diversity. Some racial diversity but less than one would expect for a college area and less diverse than North Knoxville.
* Some nice historic SF homes and apartments but much of it has been leveled or is unattractive student housing. Historic commercial along Cumberland is gone.
* In-fill is a mixed bag. Lots of student apartments on residential streets but often tacky design or lots of parking. Some good urban in-fill.  Some good mixed-use urban in-fill along Cumberland (the main drag) but plenty of autocentric commercial and tacky design.

Old Fourth & Gill/Emory Place- Knoxville’s best Urban Neighborhood

This evaluation includes both the Fourth & Gill and Emory Place neighborhoods. I also expanded Emory Place to go north to Bernard and west to Cooper St.

Fourth & Gill was Initially developed in the late nineteenth century as a residential area for Knoxville’s growing middle and professional classes. The neighborhood still contains most of its original Victorian-era houses, churches, and streetscapes. Similar to Old North Knoxville to the north the Post WWII era brough suburban sprawl  and the neighborhood began to decline. Many of the neighborhood’s houses were converted into low-rent apartments. During the late 1970s Fourth and Gill launched a major preservation effort and thankfully the district still contains most of its original houses. Closer to Downtown ,Emory Place is a district that developed due to the construction of the Old Grey Cemetery  and the Southern Railroad in the 1850s. By the  late 19th century a farmers’ market and several small industrial and commercial companies grew up adjacent to the train station to take advantage of its convenient location. By the early 20th century Emory Place had transitioned into a mostly residential neighborhood but its history helped it become arguably Knoxville’s most mixed-use districts outside of Dwtn.  Thanks to the dismantling of the trolley system and construction of I-40, Emory Place began to decline. A small Historic District saved some of the neighborhood’s historic buildings but much of Emory Place’s fabric was erased and the neighborhood still lacks good urban cohesion.

Because of its age and adjacent location to Downtown Fourth & Gill/Emory Place have the best urban form and cohesion of any urban neighborhood in Knoxville. Much of Center Ave is intact and Broadway is a semi-urban corridor. Many late 19th/ Early 20th century homes in Fourth & Gill remain and Emory Place has several gorgeous mid-late 19th century bldgs. The district also has consistant sidewalk & ADA infrastructure, solid public transit and bike infrastructure, a strong housing market, and good cultural amenities. To become a great urban district the neighborhood needs more people, a lot more rental options, mixed-use infill in many parts of Emory Place and along Broadway, better parks, and more retail amenities to increase walkability.

Click here to view my Emory Place Album on Flickr. And here for Fourth & Gill


* ADA and sidewalk infrastructure is pretty high quality through the neighborhood.
* Solid public transit access and bike infrastructure.
* Great access to dwtn being only 0.5-1.5 miles from the neighborhood.
* Pretty good diversity all around especially economic.
* Pretty good diversity of for sale hsg prices but more expensive than other adjacent neighborhoods. 1-bed condos selling in the 200Ks, 2-bed 300K-500K, 3 & 4 beds btwn 300K-650K.
* The district is generally safe but Emory Place can get pretty sketchy with its large homeless population.
* Lots of attractive historic homes and a decent amount of attractive historic commercial bldgs.
* Tree canopy is good in Fourth & Gill but pretty sparse in Emory Place.
* There is certainly a good amount of buzz in Fourth & Gill but Emory Place is still a bit dodgy.
* Plenty of autocentric holes on Center and Broadly but better urban form that surrounding neighborhoods esp. along Central.
* Decent cultural amenities including several restaurants & cafes, a couple bars, several breweries, a couple art galleries & live music venues, a community theater, and very convenient access to the many cultural amenities of Dwtn.


* A couple smaller or specialty schools with in the neighborhood and some in the adjacent districts.
* Rentals are very hard to come by. 1-beds lease in the low 1Ks, 2-beds in the mid 1Ks-2K. and 3 beds around 2K.
* Pedestrian activity isn’t great but better than most Knoxville urban districts.
* Poor density for an urban neighborhood.
* Parks are limited to the small Fourth and Gill and the Old Grey Cemetery. A couple walks nearby in adjacent districts.
* Okay retail amenities including a couple supermarkets& drug stores just outside the neighborhood district, a couple boutiques, home good, & antique stores, a hardware store, several dessert joints, and several churches.
* Not much infill but what does exist is mediocre.

Old North Knoxville- One of Knoxville’s better urban districts

For this evaluation I included all of North Old Knoxville but extended the boundaries to Broadway and Central. This evaluation also includes the Old Holler Historic District along Central Avenue.

The housing boom reached what is now Old North Knoxville in the late 1880s. The area quickly became a prominent suburb for Knoxville’s upper middle and professional classes until the 1950s. During the 50s many of the neighborhood’s larger homes were converted into low rent apartments, leading to a decline in the area. Fortunately this lasted for only a couple decades and by the 70s/80s there was a strong preservation movement in place to renovate and stabilize the historic homes. In 1992, over 400 houses were added to the National Register of Historic Places.

On the positive side, Old North Knoxville is a generally a safe area, with good park amenities, decent bike infrastructure and public transit. It also is one of the more sought after urban districts in Knoxville due to its central location, historic housing stock, a decent walkable retail and cultural amenities. While this is one of the City’s better urban neighborhoods I just barely consider it to be a quality urban area. The main reason for this is the neighborhood’s low density, lack of pedestrian activity, hit or miss ADA infrastructure, often auto centric commercial district massing, limited walkable schools, few rental properties, and many missing retail amenities. The revitalization of Centre Avenue and Broadway as dense, mixed-use corridors would go a long ways to making this a better urban district.

Click here to view my Old North Knoxville Album on my Flickr Page


* Decent ADA infrastructure and sidewalks. Some areas missing sidewalks and plenty of ADA curbs missing.
* Great access to Dwtn Knoxville which is only 1-2 miles away and a 5 minute drive.
* Decent bike infrastructure with several bike lanes running through the district.
* Solid diversity across the board. Only concern is that poverty is pretty widespread here.
* Lots of attractive historic homes here.
* Urban massing along Central is decent. High quality for the 2 blocks of the Old Holler Historic District. Broadway is more hit or miss.
* Generally a pretty safe neighborhood.
* Pretty good buzz. Old North Knoxville is considered urban for Knoxville and sought out by those desiring an urban life.
* Good tree canopy but below average of southern neighborhoods.
* Good diversity of for sale hsg prices.. Some small 1-beds selling in the mid to high 100Ks, 2-bed 175K-400K, 3 & 4 beds btwn 225K-600K.
* Decent cultural amenities includes several restaurants, bars, and cafes, a couple art galleries, a couple night clubs, several breweries, a historic movie house, a community theater, and convenient access to the cultural amenities of Dwtn.
* Decent retail amenities including 3 supermarkets, several drug stores, several antique and consignment stores, a record store, a couple gift stores, several e dessert stores, a several churches, and a post office.


* Pretty poor density for an urban district.
* Pedestrian activity not great, but better than other inner city Knoxville neighborhoods.
* Decent # of schools but mixed ratings.
* Smaller rentals are very hard to come by. 1-beds lease in the low 1Ks, 2-beds in the mid 1Ks. and 3 beds (which seem most common) around 2K.
* Parks are limited to a couple small-medium sized parks and the First Creek Greenway along the eastern edge of the neighborhood.
* Neighborhood needs more retail amenities especially banks more boutiques and antique stores, etc.

Oakwood- a Streetcar Neighborhood in North Knoxville, TN

For the evaluation I used the commonly excepted boundaries of Oakwood and extended it west to include Central Avenue and areas west to the train tracks.

Oakwood was developed starting in the early 20th century and started as a quiet streetcar community with easy access to Dwtn. The neighborhood was annexed into the City of Knoxville in 1917. The Community filled out by around WWII but the commercial districts along Central, Woodland, and Broadway were slow to development and unfortunately turned out pretty autocentric.

The district is characterized by pretty 1910s-1930s homes set on mostly sidewalk lined streets with decent bike and public transit access, and a convenient 5 minute drive to Downtown Knoxville. But I wouldn’t characterize Oakwood as necessarily walkable as the density is low, business and cultural amenities are limited, and the commercial districts are not very urban. Oakwood does have a good array of affordable/moderately priced homes, but few rentals. Overall the community is safe and there are a decent number of park amenities. What Oakwood mostly needs is a population boom and creation of mixed-use urban corridors along Central, Woodland, and Broadway. That would good a long way towards creating a quality urban district here.

Click here to view my Oakwood album on Flickr


* Very convenient access to Dwtn. Only a 5 minute drive. Bus ride is 30-40 minutes.
* Decent bike lane infrastructure but no dedicated bike stations in Oakwood.
* Solid connectivity here.
* Excellent economic and generational diversity. Ok racial diversity.
* For sale hsg is pretty moderately priced. Some small 1-beds selling in the 100Ks, 2-bed 150K-300K, 3 & 4 beds btwn 175K-375K.
* Decent park amenities with the medium size Christen berry Ballfields and Fulton Bicentennial Park. A couple other pocket parks.
* Good tree canopy but not as full as most southern neighborhoods.
* Overall a pretty safe community.


* ADA infrastructure and sidewalks are very hit or miss. About 1/2 of the residential streets have sidewalks and ADA curbs are often missing from the arterial roads.
* So  public transit.
* Decent # of schools but mixed ratings.
* Smaller rentals are very hard to come by. 1-beds lease in the low 1Ks, 2-beds in the mid 1Ks. and 3 beds (which seem most common) around 2K.
* Urban form and streetscaping is pretty poor. While there are sidewalks few buildings are up to the street.
* Pedestrian activity is pretty limited.
* Fair cultural amenities including a decent mix of American & Mexican restaurants, a cafe, a couple breweries, and the Knoxville Children’s Theater. Convenient access to the cultural amenities of adjacent urban neighborhoods and certainly Dwtn.
* Slightly more retail amenities although generally set in an autocentric setting… Supermarket, a bakery, a couple drug stores, a couple boutiques/consignment stores, an ice cream store, a  post office, and a couple churches.