Real interesting conversation going on over at KnoxBlab lately about Marble City’s virtues and (often kibitzed about in these kinds of places) its shortcomings in comparison to Chattanooga and Asheville. They hop on downtown livin’, hipsters, Fourth and Gill’s rise and other Knoxville trends.
This – not necessarily a reaction to the thread, but inspired by the conversation – is a post that has been in the back of my head for some time.
I have spent significant time in Knoxville (obviously), but have spent many weekends in Chattanooga and Asheville. I’m from North Carolina and remember when the Biltmore was the only reason to go to Asheville. I’ve got family going back generations in the South’s largest cities and have never lived north of Danville, Va.
Being that both are roughly 90 minutes away and have oh-so-much-going-for-them, it’s an easy comparison to make. You see your neighbors’ houses every day.
The first and most common thing you see on any robust blog – as mentioned above – is its forum pointing out the warts of a thing, person, place or idea. There is a function to this, true, when done in a constructive manner. And people love to compare where they have been to their experience now, while pointing out one’s current shortcomings. We do this about cheeseburgers, exes, cars, places we live, fashion, colleges and chocolate.
I’m no homer – I’m paid to be objective, and on more than one occasion have been asked (here and elsewhere) the following by folks in power of all stripes:
“Why don’t you focus on this (charitable practice/fluffy piece of news) instead?”
“Why are you interested in this (not great thing/malfeasance/mistake with public money)?”
The reason is because I’m not supposed to do that. Find a trade magazine if you want your puff piece published. But I’m arriving at a point here – I don’t have affinity over Knoxville more than any other place except for the fact that I live and pay taxes here. Only that drives what I do and how I think about where I live.
There are things here that most other cities – much larger cities than Knoxville – would issue billions in bonds (if that were possible) to have. Quickly – a major university, three rivers, access to world-class outdoors and a nearby world-class research center. Traffic is not an issue close to what the Charlottes and Atlantas, or heck the Richmonds, Raleighs, Greenvilles and Greensboros of the world face. (I hear Birmingham can be a tough ride, too.) We have it good enough that we get upset over a 15 minute stop or having to wait through two light changes at an intersection to make a left.
Now, there is plenty wrong about this place too – and we report those things in the pages of KNS every day. The point there being that exposing inequality and mistakes may help lead to some kind of positive movement.
Anyway, back to the Asheville-Chatt comparison. Asheville is the kind of place that people go to once they have made their money. Chattanooga is close enough to Atlanta to have benefitted from that city’s boom in the last few decades. It’s a nice place to visit, like Asheville, and if you’re able to live there – have at it. Both are fine places, but neither have much in common with Knoxville other than regional geography and a river.
But you’re not going to gain by comparing your perceived shortcomings to others. You will once you see what is working elsewhere and applying that to your own situation while understanding what tools and limitations are at your hand.
That’s 600 words, so I’m done.