OK on paper, but ultimately not the town for us.
In 2017 we had the opportunity to move based on kids stages in school (and one had just graduated). Anywhere really as spouse's job is found everywhere, mine is a bit more limiting, but could likely find one within a reasonable commute of most places. We've lived urban and we've lived suburban as a family. We've lived in several states. So, during 2016/2017 we performed the paper exercise of evaluating various areas of the country to live. We even had a relative willing to let us buy a 3 acre plot of land in NE PA (but, small town and not the weather we were looking for).
Knoxville came up high on our list for many of the reasons others list. In addition, we had vacationed a couple of times in Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg, and visited the Great Smokey Mtn Natl Park. Also, we have relatives in the MD/DC area and the drive from Knoxville would be reasonable for a holiday visit. Since we could drive to Knoxville from where we lived in OH, we decided to assess Knoxville in person during the early summer of 2017. We booked a hotel on the Northern side for 2 nights, we booked an AirBnB in an established neighborhood in the home of a retired, well educated couple who had lived in their home for 30+ years for 2 nights, and also booked an AirBnB in a established, desired neighborhood nearer to UT run by an educated young couple (with at least one toddler) who grew up in the area, although they had lived in another state for several years for work. We figured this would be good to get different perspectives when speaking with the AirBnB owners, and this was, in fact, helpful. In addition, they had some good insights on the roads, schools, ups/downs of the area over the years, etc.
During the 6 days, we accomplished a lot:
1. We visited/toured a couple of private elementary schools, a private high school, and called some of the public schools in the districts we were considering, in order to ask some clarifying questions based on the info we could get on their individual websites. Everyone was helpful and informative. We quite liked the private schools and felt that the education was similar to what we have found when our kids have attended private schools in other places. FWIW, our kids have also attended public schools that we were happy with - but, we base their attendance on what will fit them best where we are living at the time. Overall, I strongly recommend looking at each district and private school website and doing a thoughtful comparison based on what is important for you or your kids, and definitely visit the schools in person.
2. We visited many small shops/stores and we were friendly, offering up that we were considering moving to Knoxville. Since we visited during the day when business was a bit slower and often attended by the owner or an older adult, we often had good conversations with these locals and were prepared with some basic questions we asked of all of them (that way we could see how they varied with their opinions, perspectives) and this was helpful. We made sure to go to a few shops a day and to always eat someplace new for each meal. We always spoke to each server too (usually a young person) to get their perspectives. As is usual everywhere I've ever been, some of these young people were not overly friendly, as some seem to be under the impression that they should be doing something more interesting than making some money. But the friendly ones were also helpful with their perspectives on Knoxville.
3. We worked with a realtor, and were open that we were considering a move, but it wasn't guaranteed. This realtor and staff were very nice and helpful. Also, I should add that this realtor was from this area for generations, had clearly done well for themselves, and were extremely well connected with what seemed like everyone. We saw several properties and I have to say that it was a bit odd: many properties trying to be flipped - old ones with a facelift listed for too much money. Or odd ones on odd properties. We were specifically looking for a minimum of 1 acre and 3 bedrooms minimum, under 300K. Some options, but we never loved anything we saw. In addition, if you pay attention to the architecture of the neighborhoods, you will see there are some distinct styles and you can age Knoxville's times of growth with the architectural styles. If you want to be in a certain school district, make sure you CALL the district to verify that address is IN the district.
4. We drove around a lot. We experienced the traffic, we experienced the terrain, we tried to find the things that would impact our daily life - like where are the grocery stores and conveniences like that and what were they like by walking through them. Knoxville has ridges to the north (towards Oakridge), and sits in a valley. There are main highways going through this valley and they are constrained, without much room to expand. Roads are narrow and clogged with traffic (away from the highways) because it is a lot more expensive to build road through these ridges than on flatter land. So, traffic is more of an issue in Knoxville than would be expected for this size town. This is true of getting out of town towards the National Park, and area East as the terrain does restrict the development of roads to some extent.
5. We attended church services of our denomination, which is a denomination that is a definite minority in Knoxville. We found the church service nice, and the people fine, although not really friendly as we were new faces. This church was relatively new in an area of some growth. I've found in all the places I've lived that people at church don't usually go out of their way to find the new people as they are at church on Sunday, with their family, sometimes extended family and are just not in that mindset to seek out new people, so this was not different than anywhere else I've been.
Overall, we did NOT choose to relocate to Knoxville, and I think this was the right decision for us. Although we could have made it work for us, it didn't offer enough benefits to offset the challenges relating to moving a family and switching jobs and schools. The traffic and traffic flow, roads throughout the areas, and the presence of major highways in the narrow Knoxville valley was also a detriment. We drove to the MD/DC area from Knoxville for a family event, and it was a long drive, not just the miles, but the intensity of the traffic for the majority of the drive. We often (2-3x per year) drive to the MD/DC area from OH, and the distance is nearly identical, but the drive is easier from OH as the traffic is only heavy in certain areas, certain times, but eases at other points (at all times of the year), so this was a drawback as well.
So, anyone considering a move to a new area, such as Knoxville, should visit the place. This is no guarantee of success, but it puts you into the environment. Consider the aspects of your daily life and seek these things out to see how they will be impacted with the move.
Bp | Cincinnati, OH