The best colleges have a beautiful campus AND an accompanying commercial area with the following sorts of enterprises: music stores, bookstores, coffee shops, inexpensive as well as high-end eateries, sidewalk cafes, art supply shops, nightclubs, folk music venues, and so on.
At Harvard, this sort of area is called Harvard Square. At the University of Colorado in Boulder, it is “The Hill.” And at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, it is “The Strip.” When I was a UT student from 1970-75 (I was a four and a half year man), The Strip fit the above definition. Its low rent attracted one-of-a-kind interesting stores–some of them black lit “head shops”–scattered among older buildings, which in those ancient times included actual houses.
In recent decades, however, thanks to the lack of planning that afflicts Knoxville and other Tennessee cities, The Strip went downhill. The old buildings were razed and replaced with fast food franchises and –worst of all–enormous gas station/convenience stores that looked like they had been airlifted in from an interstate highway exit.
Now, according to a News Sentinel article, the city of Knoxville is taking a look at The Strip and trying to decide what can be done. There is one answer to that question: plenty.
What is good for The Strip will be good for tourists and local residents alike. First, the four lane Strip should be resized to three lanes, with pull-outs for buses and other measures to slow traffic. While Cumberland Avenue is technically still a state highway, almost all of the through traffic uses I-40.
Second, the mega gas stations should be bought out ASAP and replaced by varied buildings no more than three stories in height. Stores and restaurants can occupy the first floor, with offices on the second and third. The lighting and signs should be redesigned to eliminate the blaring plastic signs that characterize The Strip now.
Finally, in the same way that new developments are often now required to contain low-income housing, the retail building should have some reduced rent units to encourage the funky, avant garde stores that make campus neighborhoods so attractive to students, tourist, and locals