By Mike Steely
When The Knoxville Focus began asking what’s been done and what’s needed to renovate the Burlington Community, comments came from various elected officials, candidates and the general public. Here are a few of the remarks.
From Eric Vreeland, deputy director of communications for the city: “Dawn Michelle Foster asked me to forward to you. Recommendations from the Design Center’s Burlington Enhancement Plan are also being incorporated in the current interchange study for the area where Magnolia Avenue, Asheville Highway and Rutledge Pike come together. One goal of making both short-term and long-term improvements to that interchange is to provide better neighborhood connections for residents and visitors in the Burlington area.”
Kai Ingram, President of Burlington Residents Association replied: “As the newly appointed Burlington Resident President, I knew inclusion for this community would be difficult. Burlington has a predominantly black and impoverished population. In my opinion, this is the reason this community continues to be overlooked as a profitable business district or citizens that can contribute. This area only has a high crime rate because the lack of opportunity through trades, lack of access to quality employment and some citizens and the media’s vantage point of “a bad area of town.” I have heard in conversation, multiple times, someone that belongs to any other community tell new residents to stay away from East Knoxville, as a whole.
“Burlington lacks the proper resources and proper allocation to become an economic powerhouse like the town of Farragut. What the city doesn’t see is when Burlington lacks funding, it hurts the surrounding communities and large business patrons like those who visit the zoo or Chilhowee Park.
“Another oversight is the ratio of nonprofit organizations, doing the ground work, and receiving funds like other nonprofits within this district and the city that are not minority owned. On the contrary, these financial contributions are going to organizations that give the residents minimal, if any, resolution for their betterment. “Burlington needs to bring about a board of residents to help determine what goes on, when and how in the Burlington district. We should also have grants and city funding to build cooperative economic businesses that are wanted and need by the people living here. Burlington doesn’t want to be pacified with promises anymore. The community wants to govern their needs as those who have been making decisions do not look like or live amongst the generations of families there. In order to promote success and growth of this community, it is my opinion we should have the following systematic strategy or something similar to it:
- Building trust and communication along with spaces to create and organize.
- Create governing body for proposed changes from the city, to supervise any modifications to our district and have oversight of all funding.
- Unlearn/teach financial concepts and business practices; Enforce education within local schools to address environmental and communal needs.
- Teach economic marketing strategies that enhance knowledge of investment concepts.
- Create cooperative businesses that will circulate or keep money within our community.
- Create a committee that will monitor all activities of the governing body, the plan steps and adjust accordingly.
“As a native Knoxvillian and Burlington resident, I feel the community feels oppressed, forgotten and angry. Me and other family members have left Knoxville and returned in Hope’s there might be some improvement to our beloved neighborhood, but to no avail. The oppression stems from systematic racism that effects one to make a sufficient income to take care of their families and homes. I can speak to oppression because I’ve seen and lived it through my great grandparents and their siblings, my grandparents and their families, my parents and their siblings as well as myself and my family. Many of my family and others in the community have degrees and post-secondary degrees.
“However, we are paid well below our counterparts despite the education or experience difference within the same capacity. This has been a common employment practice since before I was born, in Knoxville. I come from a lineage of scholars, entrepreneurs, construction workers, military veterans and some who retired from Oak Ridge National lab or Alcoa with minimal to no advancement during their careers. We feel forgotten because all of our businesses are shut down, we have dilapidated buildings, light poles, drainage systems, streets and lack access and funding for financial literacy programs to teach self-sufficiency and independence. This community is totally dependent upon the city’s financial obligations, or lack thereof.
“Our anger is rooted in how the black community has always been forced into areas that are heavily harassed, by police presence, and not being protected in a bipartisan manner through grassroots organizations. We are angered by the unsolved murders that outnumber unsolved crimes in the rest of Knoxville. We are angry on how the entire city has changed to benefit all communities except our own and being forced out by the effects of gentrification.
“We are angry we haven’t always been factored into the city’s economic growth. We are angered by our voices being silenced and not heard when we do speak up for concerns. We argue because our city doesn’t see this reoccurrence or have any feelings toward it. We are angry to not get a chance let along second chances. We are humans and deserve humane treatment and equality in the place where we pay taxes and call home.”
Diane Davidson, director of the East Tennessee Community Design Center, said Burlington is “not forgotten by the East Tennessee Community Design Center. The Burlington Community was the focus of ETCDC Community Collaborative last year. See some of the plan outcomes here: https://communitydc.org/project/burlington-enhancement-plan/.”
Jered Croom said, “I would push back slightly. Forgotten by the City and County leadership perhaps, but there are many people who live, love, shop and worship there. You are spot on though regarding economic investment. I just don’t want people to conflate gentrification with improvement.”
Henry Wilson commented, “Please remember Cal Johnson’s formidable presence in the community, including the old racetrack at Speedwell Circle.”
Various other citizens, whether Burlington residents or not, recalled the neighborhood institutions including The Lunch Box Restaurant, Unchained Bail Bonds, breakfast at Ruby’s, Chilhowee Park redevelopment, the “downtown” section, churches, and living and growing up in Burlington.
The Focus will continue to take comments at “firstname.lastname@example.org” and we’re asking for ideas and requests for additional attention and funding for Burlington’s future.