Friday, April 16, 2010

You can take the B out of Maplehurst, but you can't take the Maplehurst out of the B

Last summer, I moved away from Maplehurst. I had lived there the two years after I graduated from college, two very fun and important years.

I've written a lot about the dire situation there. It was hard to live there as a tenant because you saw the damage of the buildings and couldn't do much about it. You also knew the good things about the neighborhood were at risk, too, but you tried to enjoy them while you could.

One night while living there, I decided to take a photo shoot of the beautiful Dogwood tree outside of my apartment. I had this funny feeling that after I left, some future crazy owner would cut it down.

A few weeks ago, a current tenant in Maplehurst told me I should come by and see the trees the new owners had started to cut down. As I drove up Poplar to Maplehurst, I looked for my tree. The current crazy owner had cut it down.

They had cut down some others too. Some people who lived there had started an impromptu boycott against the men cutting down the trees, which in turn caused some of the new owners to come over and explain things.

The suited men stood and rationalized their decisions to the young crowd that had gathered outside of the Kristopher apartment building. They said they were cutting down trees that were a threat to the buildings and to people. It did and didn't make sense. As they were talking, men with chainsaws began hacking away at a large Magnolia tree.

"What's wrong with the Magnolia?" The crowd asked.

"Oh. We just want to get a good view of the pretty buildings we have here. They're only trimming them."

I realized nothing was going to stop what they were doing. They owned the property after all.


It's been about a month since then. I heard recently how terrible things have become there. I went last night to see it for myself. They took down so many trees, and have hacked away at several others. The Magnolia they were "trimming" isn't really a Magnolia anymore.

I ran into a friend that lives there. She told me there is construction all day long, starting at 7am and that the men working have actually moved into her apartment building. As they carried cases of liquor into their apartment, she kissed the charm and peace of Maplehurst goodbye.


Something I wanted for Maplehurst while I was there was a neighborhood association so tenants' voices could be heard. But that's the thing about living in Maplehurst. You decide to move there based on your attraction of the tall unwieldy trees and old buildings. You begin to think that, because you think it's a magical place, everyone else must too. The threat of it being destroyed is always there, but you begin to walk around with your shoes off and you call up to your neighbors' windows to ask when they're going to come out and play. And you go night swimming in the Maplehurst pool after biking from downtown. You're too busy living while you are there to form any kind of organization. Then it's time to move because your ceiling is crumbling away a little too much. And nothing ever gets better.


To me, it was great to see that crowd of Maplehurst dwellers stand up against the trees being cut down. It is a rare thing for students to care about the longevity of good things in Knoxville. To most students, Knoxville is like a vacation. They're here to have a fun time, but they're packing up when it's over.

I've seen a lot of good people move from Maplehurst, and they continue to leave. I can only assume this is what the owners want in order to prepare for a new crop of inhabitants who won't mind the changes (because they won't know them as changes).

I applaud every effort to preserve what is there. Of course! But at the same time I mourn what will be lost. Time will tell, but it could be the beginning of the end of the free spirit Maplehurst has struggled to hold onto. It's on to something more ordered and polished, something I just didn't want right after college. This is just how it goes, I am told.

joe plays the fiddle by my dogwood tree, spring 2009


R.L.Ray said...

this makes me want to cry but I've become numb too.

Anonymous said...

B, this is so pretty. Props to you. That is all.

Robert said...

Thanks B. Maplehurst defined my college experience.

Anonymous said...

this is unadulterated, childish nostalgia.

Andrea said...

I think this is a really nice article. I have had the same emotions from seeing changes in my hometown.

Susanne said...

Anonymous, I hope you're joking with your comment. There is a distinct difference between childish nostalgia and an elevated quality of life that is nuanced by the details of a place. There are certain things that make a place and an experience special and pleasant, and I appreciate B's ability to recognize and focus on those things. It's a shame that the current owners of Maplehurst are ruining it. I have a couple of friends who loved living there (and I loved visiting them there) until they were intruded upon by several construction workers on multiple occasions. Understandably, that was the last straw for them, and they chose to move. I think it would be useful and profitable for the current owners to actually engage with the residents to learn what is valued about Maplehurst and strive to protect and restore those things rather than blatantly disregard them. Our Knoxville neighborhoods are never going to increase in monetary value until the quality of the places and experiences in them are elevated.

micah daniel said...

great post b.
this makes me so frustrated. i have recently seen the now bare hill from neyland and have not gotten a closer look for fear of what i might find.
surely there are ways to refurbish/renovate/improve the properties here without compromising the distinct character and sense of place that is so incredibly rich. the old trees in the neighborhood are key to this richness. i would hope that the owners would recognize this.

steven said...

Whaaaat? Maplehurst was one of my favorite neighborhoods in Knoxville, in no small part because of the trees. Somehow I'm not surprised though. It's part of the same redneck mentality that exists in such southern cities. I wouldn't be surprised if they were just doing it because they abhor trees or plan to raze the houses and replace them with prefab houses that remind them of the dump of a county they probably came from.

Anonymous said...

The contractors are trying to save Maplehurst - not kill it. Feel free to mourn the short-term loss of some trees and branches, but a little pruning is the only thing that will keep the buildings intact. Yes, there is an urban romanticism about the gracefully crumbling and overgrown neighborhood, but that is not sustainable. Eventually nature will reclaim the land, and the buildings will be uninhabitable, and the property will be in position to become a construction sight for a concrete dorm or something even uglier. The current developers are preventing that by getting the area up to code while preserving the architectural character for years to come. The branches will grow back.

Susanne said...

It's true that the branches will grow back and new trees can be planted, but I think that the bigger issue is the attitude with which the owners are moving forward. I think the trimming of trees and the imposition of intrusive construction would be met with a lot more support if the residents were informed of the plans and the intended end result. Without an understanding of what's to come, most expect the worst when they see extensive tree removal and destructive workers roaming around. It's obvious that those buildings are in need of some appropriate maintenance and code compliance. Maybe the owners just need to amp up their customer service and public relations effort.

Anonymous said...

I'm no arborist, but I think that dogwood in the last picture was not much of a "threat" to that building.

The owners aren't bad people. I think they honestly think they're helping Maplehurst. But if you look at their track record of projects, sensitivity and taste are not their strong suit. I could almost understand if the owners just didn't care- Knoxville's full of that. But decent, misguided people who think they are "helping" often do more harm than the crooks.

Anonymous said...

I don't have much of a problem with "progress" regardless of how they justify the cutting down of the trees. This might just be me, but what drives me crazy is the blatant disregard of the people that live here.

Try working from home with constant (and I do mean CONSTANT) beeping, buzzing, yelling, pounding, sawing, etc...that goes on from 7am until roughly 9pm. I realize people have a job to do, but the tenant's quality of life should be taken into consideration. Why should we pay the same amount of rent now that we used to when it didn't completely suck to live here. This morning (Saturday) they were grinding a stump 3 feet from my bedroom window. Where's the urgency in that?! Have a little respect ya know? What used to be a wonderful community has now turned into the place I cannot wait to move away from. It's really a shame.

Anonymous said...

Those are nice photos. I lived in the Neyland Hills apartments (now a sick pale yellow color, apparently), all through my college career during the late '80s, but I never really appreciated the charm of the Maplehurst at the time. Maybe if there'd been an easier way to access Maplehurst from W. Hill ave, I would have ventured up that way more than I did.

I had some friends who lived in the apartments at the end of Rock Street. That was a great place to be for Boomsday!

Brenna said...

Thanks for the post. It has been crazy in Maplehurst lately and I've felt guilty that I didn't keep on with the neighborhood initiative that we talked about before you left. I still love the neighborhood of course, but the trees totally made a difference and made it feel hidden, like you had made a discovery when you arrived there, which I think has a lot to do with the charm of Maplehurst.

The Modern Gal said...

I think the fact that it's called MAPLEhurst makes a Maplehurst with neutered trees stupid.

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