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New Urbanism in Bearden?

by Matt Edens

How do you go about reshaping a thriving suburban area into something friendlier—less strip-mall tacky and more small-town charm? Those are the questions on the minds of Bearden residents, roughly 50 of whom attended a meeting last week at Bearden Elementary School to discuss the Metropolitan Planning Commission's Bearden Area Opportunities Plan—a proposal which may eventually dare to introduce "New Urbanism" ideals into sprawling West Knoxville.

The plan, also commonly referred to as the "Village of Bearden," deals with the area roughly bounded by I-40 on the north, the railroad on the south, Northshore Drive on the west, and Western Plaza and the UT student housing on the east. It is a uniquely mixed neighborhood—both upper and low income, rental, owner-occupied, and even some subsidized housing. Along Kingston Pike and tucked into Homberg Place is a thriving commercial district. Populated by a mix of offices, locally-owned galleries, restaurants, and specialty shops as well as major anchors like supermarkets and drugstores, it's roughly the same sort of mix of residents, retail and services currently coveted by downtown. It is these assets, plus the tremendous potential to build upon them, that have planners excited. Bearden is, according to MPC Director Norman Whitaker, "different from farther out west." With its "human scale," Whitaker sees "great potential for a pedestrian-oriented development pattern."

But Bearden has problems as well as potential, namely four lanes of Kingston Pike surging through the middle of it. Traffic and how to reduce, tame, or otherwise control it were prominent themes in the comments of most residents attending last week's meeting.

It's a theme planners have picked up on as well. Working with the findings of a study by students of University of Tennessee's Graduate School of Planning and guided by the latest "New Urbanist" design principles, some planning suggestions have already been developed, most of which have to do with overcoming, or working around the automobile. Ideas include traffic calming to reduce and slow down traffic, and better sidewalk and greenway connections to encourage more people to leave their cars at home. Other ideas address everything from reducing parking requirements to encouraging shared parking, controlling the clutter of roadside signs, and encouraging mixed-use development.

Area residents seemed generally excited by the possibilities. Finbar Saunders, president of the Westwood Homeowners Association, says, "If we change things just a little bit we could have a place friendly for pedestrians, bicycles, baby carriages—and the merchants would love it."

Indeed, business support was evident at the meeting. Booth Kammann with Holrob Investment—the firm which, in addition to extensive commercial holdings in Homberg and along Kingston Pike, recently developed Mercedes Place on the former home of the Knoxville Motor Company—expressed support for the planning process, but stressed the need for a "balance of developers' concerns" with those of residents. Also, as many of Bearden's older structures are becoming eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, Kammann expressed Holrob's interest in separate building codes for historic buildings, something many downtown boosters are currently clamoring for.

The planning initiative grew out of MPC's larger West Sector Plan which outlined areas with the potential to benefit from smaller-scale "neighborhood" planning, but it could be an interesting experiment in taming urban "sprawl." Perhaps that's fitting. Bearden, the city's first suburban commercial district to develop solely oriented to the automobile, is, 50 to 60 years later, the first to seriously ponder the implications over-reliance on the automobile has had on quality of life.

  N-S Staff Byline Strike

by Joe Tarr

Before last weekend, reporters and photographers at The Knoxville News-Sentinel figured their names, at least, belonged to them. Management disagreed.

Most of the paper's editorial staff asked their names be withheld from the paper's Friday, Saturday and Sunday editions as a way of drawing attention to their contentious contract negotiations with the paper. Known as a "byline strike," the tactic has been used by reporters at other papers in the past. (The Associated Press held a byline strike just a few months ago.)

But the Sentinel's management refused, and used the names anyway.

"Folks are not real happy," says reporter Stan DeLozier, president of the Knoxville Newspaper Guild, which represents about 85 employees, including reporters, photographers and some clerical staff. "They believe the company has violated the contract. There are folks here who believe their name is their name and they have a right to the use of their name. In journalism, it's generally conceded a byline is the reporter's property."

According to the old contract, which expired in February '98 but is still in effect pending a new one, "No employee writing under his/her own signature shall be asked, expected, or required to conform to the paper's editorial policy at the expense of his own convictions. An employee's byline should not be used over his/her protest."

A letter from Managing Editor Lara Edge, which was posted in the newsroom, states that the provision is relevant only in disputes over editorial content. Edge says she cannot comment about the strike attempt or the contract negotiations. Publisher Bruce Hartmann did not return a call to his office. DeLozier disagreed with the management's interpretation of the contract. "No rights are granted to the company regarding byline."

The main sticking points in negotiations involve pay and the employees' desire for a 401K plan, which other papers in the E.W. Scripps chain have.

March 9, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 10
© 2000 Metro Pulse