Livability Solutions

How to Make a Neighborhood Destination: Knoxville, TN

September 2015


Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission



The Old Sevier Community is just across the Tennessee River from downtown Knoxville. It has a population of approximately 3 thousand residents, and is diverse racially, educationally, and economically. Despite the proximity to a thriving downtown, the neighborhood's fortunes have been in decline since the 1950s with fewer than 1/5 of residents being homeowners and, with no alternatives to driving, residents of Old Sevier face transportation costs that are disproportionally high. The neighborhood also suffers from a lack of destinations, or places that could reinforce community identity and strengthen social cohesion by building relationships between residents.

Redevelopment plans for the South Knoxville Elementary School, the imminent arrival of a multiuse trail, and a wealth of unused land with permissive owners may present a turning point for the neighborhood. The Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission in collaboration with Livability Solutions' technical assistance provider (Project for Public Spaces) developed a technical assistance plan to address the following objectives:

  1. Connecting the South Knoxville Elementary School to the Old Sevier community and nearby local businesses.
  2. Creating a gathering place for the community along the school's Sevier Avenue frontage.
  3. Improving the attractiveness of the school's property.
  4. Showcasing Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper (LQC) techniques and help jumpstart its application elsewhere in South Knoxville and the greater Knoxville region.

The Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission plans to use the experience it gains in Old Sevier to inform other neighborhood planning efforts that are focused on turning schools into community hubs.


The on-site technical assistance began with a walk of the Old Sevier neighborhood. During the walk the team from PPS spoke to residents, business owners and school staff to gain an appreciation for local stakeholder priorities. Based on those conversations the team decided to focus the Place Game workshop on sites directly adjacent to South Knoxville Elementary School.

The Place Game workshop provided an opportunity for a wide range of community members to actively participate in evaluating and brainstorming ideas for four sites directly adjacent to the school. After an overview presentation from PPS on Placemaking principles and relevant case studies, participants divided into four groups, walked to one of four sites, and worked in small groups using the Place Game tool to discuss and evaluate the site's current strengths and weaknesses, and to brainstorm LQC ideas for making the site a more active and engaging public space. At the close of the workshop each small group reported its findings to the entire group.

The focus group recommendations were reviewed the following day during a work session; themes were distilled from the recommendations; and those themes were used to construct that evening's Pledge Workshop. The Pledge Workshop was designed to allow a mix of participants from the Place Game workshop, invited community partners, and potential funders to work in a focused manner on the key opportunities. Participants split into smaller working groups to identify what the "first move" could be for each theme, and what community partners could bring needed resources to support that "first move." The workshop closed with individual participants pledging their commitment to following through on next steps.

PPS and local team partners from Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission, the Knox County Health Department, and Knoxville's "Community Connectors" group presented a series of project updates at a breakfast meeting the following morning. The meeting served as an opportunity for the local team to update key partners on projects and seek their support. It was also a chance for PPS to describe the LQC Placemaking approach and how it can be applied more widely in Knoxville.


The 2017 Neighborhood Conference, convened by the City of Knoxville's Office of Neighborhoods, included a breakout session on Placemaking. The Office offers small grants for neighborhoods to undertake Placemaking projects.

The Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission established a Healthy Community Project Manager position in late 2016 to promote Placemaking. Hired for the position was Ben Epperson who was lead in bringing Livability Solutions technical assistance to the Old Sevier neighborhood.

The Old Sevier neighborhood has recently welcomed new development and recreational amenities. A coffee shop and a brewery have opened along Sevier Avenue, the neighborhood's de facto Main Street. The City opened the Suttree Landing Park along the Tennessee River. The park includes a walkway and playground and is easily accessible by walking and bicycling

The Barber Street Zone has been transformed by the addition of a skate park which was designed and built by local skaters. Several murals were added at the location to cover up graffiti.