Viewing Knoxville: A Photo Essay
The following photos were taken by Alan Sims, but you may know him better by his online handle, “Knoxville Urban Guy.” He chronicles life in downtown Knoxville, everything from businesses, local characters known and unknown, pets, music and events at his blog and Facebook page. The HillVille caught up with him recently to find out what inspires him to share the city with others.
By Alan Sims
I’m originally from Mobile, Alabama, but I moved to Knoxville in 1982 after graduating from the University of Florida. Originally I was a counselor, but now both my wife and I are both librarians. I’d always wanted to live in the mountains and being unemployed I could move wherever I wanted. My wife and I lived in several places around the city including South Knoxville and West Knoxville, but ultimately realized we spent most of our free time downtown and when we spotted a beautiful brick and wrought iron courtyard and row homes built in 1916, we couldn’t resist.
Still, I was nervous about leaving the suburbs and moving into the city. I realized it would be very different and worried we might not know what we were getting into. I scoured the Internet for descriptions of daily life in downtown Knoxville and realized there were very few. We took the plunge, made the move in 2009 and a few months later I realized I needed to be the one to document life in my city. It’s been a wonderful experience and now, while the city isn’t perfect, I can’t imagine living outside an urban area.
While I always imagined I would live in a rural setting, if I look back, I realize I was always in love with cities. First it was New Orleans. Later I really liked New York City even though that is somewhat sacrilegious to say in the south. Later I fell in love with San Francisco and Paris, but it seems I was destined to settle in this magnificent, sometimes frustrating, determined little city.
I love its music, history and its friendliness. Its Appalachian roots are never far away in public displays of religion, fierce defense of personal freedoms and most especially, in its music. We have what has to be one of the very few live daily radio shows in the country, often featuring blue grass or Americana from our region. This is the latest in a line of radio stations that have broadcast live music from Knoxville going back nearly one hundred years. I also have far more friends in the shops, galleries and musical groups in the city than I ever would have had in a suburb. It’s part of the irony of living in our city: People are friendlier than in most neighborhoods.
There is such a great story here and I’m honored to be one of the people telling it in my own little way with my blog. Like many cities, we have the best and the worst of humanity on display on the same city blocks: neglect, beauty, filth and art, the most successful people and those who struggle. I enjoy having to confront so many of the great dichotomies of the human condition in one compressed space. It’s not pristine and well-manicured, it’s not always pretty, but it’s always real and it keeps me honest.
Click on any photo below to launch the gallery slideshow.