Knoxville’s Gay Street Earns National Recognition as “Great Street”
Congratulations, Knoxville! The rest of the country now knows what we’ve known for a long time: Gay Street is a Great Street!
A 10-block section of Gay Street from West Jackson Avenue to the southern end of the Gay Street Bridge has been named by the American Planning Association (APA) as one of 2012’s Great Streets in America. Since 2007, APA has recognized 10 winners in each of three categories—Great Neighborhoods, Great Streets, and Great Public Spaces—in its annual Great Places competition.
Gay Street is recognized alongside such well-known streets as New York’s Fifth Avenue, Charleston’s Broad Street, and Key West’s Duvall Street. As MPC Executive Director Mark Donaldson commented, “That’s some pretty good company to be hanging out with.”
The Great Places program celebrates locations of exemplary character, quality, and planning. Honorees represent the gold standard in terms of having a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement, and a vision for tomorrow.
While Gay Street’s greatness is well known to those who live, work, and play downtown, the initial nomination actually came as a surprise to City of Knoxville officials and MPC. Earlier in the year, an APA staff person visiting the area was impressed with the streetscape and felt compelled to make the nomination.
APA employs a two-step evaluation of Great Places candidates. First, nominations are solicited via their website, and every place that is suggested is reviewed. Next, the best nominees from all submissions are asked to provide more information to APA, and the eventual winners are chosen from that group.
Once Gay Street made the first cut, APA contacted MPC for more details about our landmark corridor. An ad hoc committee was formed with representatives from the City’s Special Events Office, Downtown Development Office, and Policy and Redevelopment Department, the Central Business Improvement District, and MPC staffers. The team documented local planning endeavors undertaken for Gay Street and provided a written history, an architectural summary, a list of amenities, and many photographs to support the nomination.
Dozens of individuals, public agencies, and civic organizations have contributed to the Gay Street we see today. Knox Heritage—originally formed to save the Bijou Theater—helped in the quest to have sections of the street added to the National Register. Private developers have invested in a multitude of restoration projects, and public planners were instrumental in improvements like wider sidewalks and street lights that complement the historic buildings lining the street.
If you haven’t taken a walk down Gay Street in a while, come downtown to the Veteran’s Day parade on November 9 to honor our local heroes or watch the Christmas parade on December 7 to kick off the holiday season, both wonderful opportunities to visit our own Great Street!
Posted 10-10-2012, written by Sarah Powell