After reading this city guide for Knoxville with the radar tuned for hyperbole, corporate-speak or inflated talk about Knoxville that would come from a group of paid promoters, and finding none of that, I tracked down the author(s).
Ariel Duncan, as it turns out, is from the area but moved away for college and then on to Europe (Dublin, London and Germany) and most recently Brooklyn in the past few years. Duncan, 30, was swinging through her hometown in the past year on her way to New Orleans to plant her flag when she fell in love with her childhood home again.
Why? It’s changed.
But really. You stuck behind in Knoxville over New Orleans?
“I think a lot of it is the downtown space, the public spaces are so much more alive,” she said. She said that there’s a creative class of youngish people here who want to do projects, and that there’s an environment that fosters that kind of community.
Brooklyn, she said, had “an edge to the city that they want to be the first to do something … there’s this sense of, ‘been there, done that’.”
That’s to say that, if you’re in Brooklyn and into something and someone else is as well, then you better go find something else to do because that someone else is already making bacon-dipped, chocolate flavored artisan pickles that come in hand-kint jars with pictures of bearded men on the side, or birds. Or something else whimsical. (Those are my words.)
People here are more collaborative, according to Duncan. And there’s a creative class that’s connecting with each other. As well as a group of young professional types. She did say that there could be a little more support for the tech types, such as the Homes for Hackers project in Kansas City.
“Here it’s a different vibe because people are excited about it,” she said. “They want to connect you to other people.”
So it’s like if I’m an artisan pickle maker, then I can get tagged up with the bearded jar maker to plug my limited edition bacon-I.P.A. pickles (Again, my words.)
In seriousness, sometimes it takes a pair of fresh eyes to realize the momentum that an area has. She remembers when Market Square was pretty much only about the market. And, sure, others around here do too, but when you see the incremental change it’s hard to take it all in sum.
Think about sliding on that pair of blue jeans that you haven’t worn in a year or two – and realizing that they fit again. Or your cousin that you haven’t seen since he was 3 years old – and is now a teenager.
Anyway, she’s an entrepreneur, a writing coach and a bit of a nut for design (hence the connection to Design Sponge).
What’s more, she and her friend Kate Irwin volunteered to do the city profile for free.
“There’s a lot more live music,” she said, “The Old City has sort of turned over again, with
a greater emphasis on gourmet food, and also a funkiness.”
She based her guide on what she would like to go see if she came to visit Knoxville from out of town – say, Brooklyn. Or Europe.
“If you look for a restaurant, you begin with a list of Applebees. And if you wander around downtown you can find all kinds of great stuff,” she said. “Whenever I go to a new city, I look for the Design Sponge city guide for it … this guide for indie Knoxville will be useful.”
Whether indie or not (Because, really, who is the arbiter of indie?) the guide is a tidy amalgamation of the funky things that have come up in the city in the past few years – the things that some could argue make a sum that’s greater than the total of the parts.