Originally uploaded by squidpants.
So I went back to Knoxville for Thanksgiving. I live in a pretty rural part of the county outside the city limits and was looking forward to it, as Knoxville has some character and it's good to see the fam and all that. The city's really changing fast, sometimes in good ways, like a lot of new nightlife and shops in the Old City and Market Square downtown, but there are a lot of changes I don't like going on too. One thing I like about the city and its environs is all the typical rural, Southern/Appalachian stuff you see. I drove down this time, and you can tell you're in the rural South when the gas stations start selling kerosene.

I also like all the old barns and rickety houses, like this one above, which are mostly (but not all) abandoned and are still standing. Outside the subdivision where my folks live (which is a pretty average subdivision) there used to be an overgrown old barn in a depression, and sometimes there'd be a horse wandering around the barn, eating the grass or whatever, and I always like to see it when I drove in. However, they flattened the land and put a new, gleaming Food City in its place. There was a country store on a big plot of land across the street from that, which was only a few years old but was pretty authentic, but the folks who owned the store split up the land, so now there's a Honda repair shop and some other generic construction going in. And when I was driving through the little Karns community (which is continually getting more chain stores and fast food), there was always this neat old 2 story building, probably from the 30s, which I used as a landmark. Unfortunately this time I drove through there and it was gone, replaced with a new Walgreens. I could go on and on with examples.

I guess that's progress, and the city and county probably get more tax revenue from a Food City and Walgreens than an old fallen down barn and a two story mom and pop store, but I think all of this stuff is taking away Knoxville's Southern-ness. Most of this stuff might as well be in Omaha or New Jersey or Anywheresville, USA.

Something else similar that's happening around Knoxville is that development is changing the area's geography. One thing I always noticed is that people refer to geographic features a lot, especially in the more rural areas of the county - for example, I live near the Ball Camp community, which is in Hines Valley between Beaver Ridge and Blackoak Ridge, and my uncle and aunt live near House Mountain over towards Corryton. However, as subdivisions and chain stores expand, those sort of things are less noticeable - there's a big subdivision that covers part of Blackoak Ridge now, and I assume that once the ridge is covered, nobody who moves in there is going to know it has a name, it's just the hill the cul-de-sac goes up. In Farragut, which is a more dense suburb, people use only the subdivision names to say where they live - Fox Den, Fort West, Village Green, and other names with no connection to anything, and everybody knows which subdivision is which. Nobody says they live on Sinking Creek or Taliaferro Bend or Canton Hollow because they don't know the names of those places, they're all covered by a mass of interconnected subdivisions.

Knoxville and the surrounding area is more than some barns and old buildings and ridges, but I feel like those are some of the few things left that are unique about the place. I was listening to NPR on the drive back and they said something about how the land defines the people in Appalachia, and I think that's exactly right. It's sort of tough to see the character of the area get taken away a little each time I go back.

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