Sometimes it takes getting your hair cut to find inspiration.
Just a few days ago, I dropped into the chair at one of my favorite barbershops and began to indulge in a staple of barber- shop etiquette: the inevitable small talk.
While clipping away my unkempt hair, Sara asked me what I thought about the swiftly-approaching Cumberland Avenue redesign, which is set to begin in earnest after the upcoming 2013 football season.
For those unfamiliar: the City of Knoxville plans to reconfig- ure the Strip from a "through location" to a "to location," attracting pedestrians with wider sidewalks and encouraging business with more parking options and amended city ordinances.
I saw her brow furrow as she described her own conspiracy theory about the changes.
According to Sara, the construction will starve the small business owners out of the Strip and open the door for University control of the area.
Her theory is not unfounded, but rather based almost entirely on the precedent set by the Henley Street Bridge project. As construction has dragged on, more and more South Knoxville shops and restaurants have struggled along Chapman Highway, emaciated by the road diet that has eliminated traffic flow to and from the city.
In a story published in April by the Tennessee Watchdog organization, one local businessman said he knew of 37 businesses that have closed since the Henley Street project started.
A construction project starts that forces motorists away from a specific area for a few years; businesses board up the windows.
See the connection?
According to Sara, the proposed construction and land- scaping on the Strip's sidewalks and turning lanes will force the businesses there to close up shop as well. She thinks that construction will drag on, as it always does, and the real estate prices will subsequently dive.
Enter the Big Orange Idea; ten to fifteen years from now, who's to say that UT won't own half the strip, having bought up the former lots of fast food and head shops and replaced it all with more student and faculty amenities?
The motive is hard to dispute. Battling to the Top 25 has proven difficult without growing in size, and at a landlocked institution like UT, growth can be hard to facilitate. As a result, the school has begun desperately grabbing up any real estate in the surrounding neighborhood.
Just a few weeks ago, this very paper reported on UT's maneuvering to acquire three historic homes on 13th Street and White Avenue.
Over on Alcoa Highway, a new, artsy sign calls attention to Cherokee Farms, another UT outpost that will house a state of the art microscope and hopes to attract a few more businesses.
Even the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center, which has stood proudly on the east end of the Cumberland Avenue for the last five years, may be a sign of the bigger, nicer Strip-to-Be.
Imagine pulling off I-40 and onto a Market Square-esque main drag, complete with bike lanes and idyllic foliage. To your right and left, delicious restaurants and outdoor patios beckon; above you, student apartments add to a decidedly city feel. The streets could be practically paved in orange and white. Student life could be city-fed.
This vision may be imagined, but the City of Knoxville's urban design plan for Cumberland Avenue already refers to the blocks between 17th Street and 11th Street as the University's "front porch."
Before we make this dream a reality, however, it will be a different orange dominating Cumberland Avenue for the next few years. Construction cone orange.
And if this barbershop banter proves true, maybe a hint of black will color the streets as the Strip's small businesses have their funeral.
R.J. Vogt is a rising senior in College Scholars. He can be reached at email@example.com.