Posted by: Dan Bergeson | April 5, 2012

Knoxville’s Market Square

Back in March I paid a long overdue visit to my son who’s living in Knoxville, TN. He’s in the roofing business, specializing in storm repair. Knoxville got hit with a mega-hail storm last fall that provided insurance companies and roofing companies with business for many months. He’s wrapping things up, but may still be there for several weeks yet.

We had some excellent food and spent a whole day hiking in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. What a magnificent place that is! I passed through the Smokies on a family vacation when I was about 12, but didn’t get to see much and remember even less. It was wonderful to get reacquainted.

In the heart of Knoxville lies Market Square. It’s got a long history dating back to 1816. In 1854 an open-air market began selling food and local goods to the populace. This pedestrian plaza was established in 1961. Northfield’s Bridge Square is much smaller than this, but could lend itself to the same kind of activity if slightly modified. Besides size, the difference between Knoxville’s Market Square and Northfield’s Bridge Square is that Market Square is designed on the European piazza or plaza concept with no elevated spaces and a brick base. There is also no vehicular traffic allowed.

Bridge Square in Northfield has a raised public space with grass and other perennials in beds. By mid-summer all of these plantings are in ruins because of the heavy and indiscriminate use of the space. All of this traffic is good, but completely incompatible with the way that the square is maintained. Bridge Square’s heavy use argues for a total makeover along the lines of Knoxville’s Market Square.

The focal point of the square is an elevated covered stage on the north (west?) end. I didn’t say “band shell” did I? It’s not really a band shell, but it’s a perfect venue for musical performances with an immense seating capacity. If we got rid of the raised portion of Bridge Square, relocated the Jacobsen fountain and Civil War monument to one end of the square or the other (instead of in the middle), we’d have lots of room to install a stage or band shell on the opposite end. Of course, we’d also have to alter traffic patterns (like vacating Water Street south of 3rd St.), but that’s kid’s stuff, right?

I have no idea if the citizens of Northfield have the stomach for the radical redo of Bridge Square that I’d like to see, but I’m heartened to discover a community that already has already adopted the concept that I’m seeking. It pays to get out in the world once in awhile.


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