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Volunteer Blvd
Volunteer Blvd on November 20, 2019. Photo by Steven Bridges/University of Tennessee

Over the past six years, the Volunteer Boulevard streetscape project has transformed the central throughway of campus. Along with improved walkways, lighting, and stronger Wi-Fi—through collaboration with UT’s Office of Information Technology—the use of plants has shaped Volunteer into a pedestrian-friendly and welcoming corridor.

The City of Knoxville originally planted one species of sycamore along the boulevard, and now dogwoods, oaks, redwoods, and holly trees line the street. The new tree wells allow for more root growth and longer life. To avoid root binding and buckling of sidewalks as trees grow, support systems called Silva Cells were installed. These supports hold traffic loads while allowing tree roots to spread via channels of rich, uncompacted soil.

Planters were expanded to create more room for a diverse selection of plant species, the majority of which are native to Tennessee. The new plants were selected for their aesthetic quality as well as hardiness; increased plant diversity means the landscape is less vulnerable to invasive species and disease. Expanded planters also act as barriers for pedestrians and control traffic.

“Plants along the road and in the median create the illusion that the road is cramped,” said Jason Cottrell, assistant director of landscape services at UT. “This illusion encourages motorists to slow down, effectively calming traffic and protecting pedestrians.”

Another goal of the landscaping was to improve water quality in the Tennessee River. Previously the space between the street and the sidewalk was used for parking; stormwater ran down the curb and drained directly into the river. Now the planters are home to bioswales—channels that concentrate and transport stormwater runoff while removing impurities.

“This network of bioswales directs runoff into the planters, where there is uptake through plants. Road toxins like oils and salts are filtered by the soil and prevented from polluting the Tennessee River,” said Cottrell.

Facilities Services will continue beautification renovations through the expansion of Johnson-Ward Pedestrian Walkway as well as more phases along UT Drive and Andy Holt Avenue.

“Our campus beautification process shows that new ideas are feasible, and they can expand into the community and encourage further landscape improvements,” said Cottrell. “The university’s collaboration with the City of Knoxville on Cumberland Avenue from 11th Street to 17th Street is one such example. Agricultural extensions and conferences provide continuing education for those in the landscape industry and are great ways to share ideas and experiences.”


Sam Ledford (865-297-3027,

Karen Dunlap (865-974-8674,​