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Why Knoxville, TN Is a Top 100 Best Place to Live

This gateway to the Smokies is attracting outdoor enthusiasts and plenty of others

By John McBryde on November 13, 2015

Volunteer Landing Park in Knoxville, TN
Knoxville / Antony Boshier

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero doesn’t have to look far to understand why her city was selected as one of the country’s Top 100 Best Places to Live. The window in her downtown office offers enough of a view.

“I can look from my office across the (Tennessee River) and see the beautiful ridge tops that are around this city,” says Rogero, who has been mayor since 2011 and a resident of Knoxville since 1981.

Outdoor Recreation in Knoxville

One of Knoxville’s more unique traits is its emphasis in recent years on becoming a destination for people who love the outdoors, whether they’re visiting or thinking about moving here. It’s a short drive from Knoxville to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but the city itself offers quite an adventure.

“We’re promoting this as an outdoor wilderness destination,” Rogero says.

Specifically, the city launched an initiative known as Knoxville Urban Wilderness, which encompasses recreational, cultural and historic preservation sites within 1,000 acres of a forested area along downtown’s south waterfront. Supported by the Legacy Parks Foundation, the urban playground incorporates 10 city parks, two quarries (one for swimming and the other for boating or kayaking), four Civil War sites and some 44 miles of hiking and mountain bike trails.

“It’s about getting outdoors and getting active,” Rogero says.

Things to Do in Knoxville

With a renewal of Knoxville’s downtown district in the last several years, residents and tourists are also finding ways to get active with the city’s nightlife. Like many cities its size, Knoxville had gone through a decline in its downtown area years ago, and entertainment options were mostly in the suburbs.

“All that has changed now,” Rogero says. “People are just pouring into downtown all hours of the day and night. There are a lot more people who are living downtown. We have a lot more festivals, retailers, restaurants, movies and performances that are inviting people to come back downtown.”

Knoxville has a range of events throughout the year, from the long-running Dogwood Arts Festival that began in 1961 to the Big Ears Festival that launched in 2009. Diversity is evident as the Rossini Festival Italian Street Fair celebrates Italian opera while the International Biscuit Festival is dedicated to the iconic Southern delicacy.

University of Tennessee

The selection of education opportunities is another factor in what makes Knoxville a desirable place to live and work. The University of Tennessee, with more than 27,000 students and 10,000 faculty and staff, is one of the country’s leading universities. Knoxville is also home to the fast-growing Pellissippi State Community College, and there are optimal public schools in the Knox County Schools district as well as an array of private schools.

In addition, housing options are in Knoxville’s favor. From apartments and condominiums that are being developed downtown to older neighborhoods to the million-dollar-plus homes, the city has housing for different income levels.

Rogero also points to the city’s improving transit system and efforts toward sustainability as other pluses for Knoxville.

“It’s just a beautiful place to live,” she says. “It has big-city opportunities but with a midsize-city feel. You can get to know people and have a real strong sense of community.”

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