The city of Knoxville recently announced a four-weekend partial closure of Gay Street, prohibiting vehicles between Wall and Union Avenues. This is supposedly a feasibility test, studying the creation of a more pedestrian-friendly city, less predominated by cars and roads.
If you like the revamped Cumberland Avenue, you will love closing Gay Street.
We close downtown streets all the time for very popular special events, such as the USA CYCLING National Championships. Those are fantastic. For years, the city closed essentially all of Gay Street and a number of other downtown streets for an evening called “Saturday night on the town,” playfully referred to as SNOT. I loved it. There were multiple music stages around downtown, with food and drink everywhere. (SNOT was ended following the shooting of a partygoer one year.)
Mayor Indya Kincannon’s press release spoke of “taking back … streets and turning them into safe spaces for pedestrians.” That doesn’t sound like a pilot project. It is certainly different from occasional special event closures. The notion that a portion of downtown’s major thoroughfare should be permanently closed is not something that should be taken lightly or subtly introduced.
Some people simply don’t like cars, believing they are incompatible with a thriving social ecosystem. If you believe cars are evil, then you are less likely to consider any unintended consequences of a decision to even partially outlaw them. The ends justify the means.
During construction of the new-and-improved, award-winning Cumberland Avenue, I sarcastically asked a city official friend of mine if he had noticed the number of business closures along the Strip since construction began. He quickly replied that new businesses were replacing the departing ones.
Restaurants and retail stores were replaced by a revolving succession of smoke shops and hookah bars, which eventually gave way to a row of cheap, high-rise apartments. But at least the cars are gone.
By turning Cumberland Avenue into a well-landscaped sidewalk that handles little vehicular traffic, city planners created the worst of both worlds, a situation that’s horrible for drivers and pedestrians.
The pioneers of downtown living are understandably upset that the peaceful center city they once enjoyed is no longer so peaceful. But I chuckle at the newer downtown residents who move from the suburbs to condominiums facing the city’s primary downtown thoroughfare – and then complain about loud cars. I live in a rural area. When a morning barrage of gunshots announces the start of dove season or my dog rolls around in poop from a neighbor’s cow that’s breached a fence, I don’t suggest outlawing hunting or cows. If they bother me enough, I can always move downtown, where at least there aren’t cows.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.