Knoxville wants to build on the success of places like Market Square (above). Photo via.
Downtown Knoxville, TN, is seeing a resurgence. New businesses and residents are moving to the area, and the City is working hard to bring similar success to neighborhoods throughout the city. Could investments in public transportation help?
To help answer that question, leaders in Knoxville welcomed Smart Growth America on July 15 and 16, 2015 for a technical assistance workshop on transit-oriented development. Chris Zimmerman, Smart Growth America’s Vice President of Economic Development, and Dena Belzer, President of Strategic Economics, spoke with elected leaders, municipal staff, representatives from regional and state agencies, and Knoxville residents about how investment in public transit could multiply the city’s economic development successes.
“Market demand for walkable places with good transit availability is growing steadily in large cities—but that’s not the only kinds of places seeing this investment,” added Zimmerman. “Americans are increasingly interested in smaller cities that offer urban amenities. This presents a great opportunity for Knoxville, which has already made great strides with its vibrant, revitalized downtown.”
Knoxville has seen significant revitalization in its downtown. Now, the City’s redevelopment efforts have focused on expanding this momentum to the City’s close-in neighborhoods. Investments in bus, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure can help connect these areas with downtown while also promoting commercial investment in walkable neighborhoods.
Knoxville has several focus areas for this work. The Magnolia Avenue corridor is one such area. Families are buying homes in the neighborhood, and the City is working to improve public housing there as well. That taken together with strong public transit ridership rates make it a great neighborhood for potential future growth.
“Transit-oriented development has the potential to encourage private investment along Knoxville’s urban commercial corridors,” said Mayor Madeline Rogero. “These areas are already the major arteries of our public transit system, and it makes sense to encourage mixed-use development in places that already have a variety of transportation options.”
“Knoxville is poised to become a new model for small and mid-sized cities in using bus—rather than rail-based—transit service to facilitate reinvestment and infill development along existing urban corridors,” said Belzer. “The City is already well on its way with areas such as Magnolia Avenue, Cumberland Avenue, and other corridors but now needs to focus on ways to continue to build on existing initiatives, including attracting more private investment.”
The workshop outlined ways other cities have successfully done this, and provided Knoxville leaders with next steps for how to make it work in their city. In agreement with Smart Growth America, Knoxville will publish one-, six- and twelve-month progress reports. Those reports will be posted below over the course of the coming year.
The technical workshop program is made possible through a five-year Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities, which seeks to develop local planning solutions that help communities grow in ways that benefit families and businesses, while protecting the environment and preserving a sense of place. Two other nonprofit organizations—Global Green USA and Project for Public Spaces—also received competitively awarded grants this year to support communities in their efforts to bolster smart growth initiatives.