On  February 23, Glass House Collective and a small army of dedicated volunteers hosted the most impressive, successful, and smile-inducing block party I have ever seen, been a part of, or attended: Better Block on Glass Street.

Better Block Chattanooga was weeks in the making; hundreds—if not thousands—of man-hours were invested in preparation for Chattanooga’s most remarkable “previtalization” event ever. To orchestrate Better Block Chattanooga, Glass House Collective hosted planning meetings and work days. And, on Martin Luther King Day, Glass House Collective and volunteers took part in the National Day of Service, devoting the entire day to cleaning up Glass Street. In additional to these efforts, Glass House Collective commissioned a colorful television advertisement to generate awareness of and excitement for the event.

After weeks of planning, preparation, and hard work to bring life back to Glass Street, Glass Street was ready to come back to life.

And come back to life it did!

Better Block Chattanooga officially kicked-off at eleven a.m., and within minutes Glass Street was filling with people.

The weeks of planning, preparation, and hard work put into creating the Better Block event really paid off. By midday, Glass Street was awash in a sea of pedestrians occupying the street from sidewalk to sidewalk.

Part of what the Better Block party-goers came to see were the adorable pop-up shops installed for the day down the length of Glass Street. The Glass Flea, conceived and operated by neighborhood resident Gail McKeel, was one of them. The Glass Flea sold clothes, jewelry, household accessories, and other items throughout the day. Gail and her volunteers thoughtfully appointed the Glass Flea’s storefront with eye-catching graphics, greenery-filled window boxes, craft signage, potted flowers, and pedestrian seating. The Glass Flea’s storefront was an overflowing urbanist cornucopia bursting with the components of a healthy street. The Glass Flea perfectly created the ambiance vigorously sought by urban designers for pedestrian environments across the country.

Farther down the block, other strategies were employed to activate the street.

Despite our best hopes, not all of the existing structures along Glass Street are currently safe to occupy. So, instead of infusing life into the neglected building with a pop-up shop, Owl Hill and Michael Goins transformed the boarded-up storefront into an imaginative canvas where children could decorate and enliven the street with stencils and paint.

Public art was utilized to enliven other Glass Street storefronts as well. This temporary PPRWRK installation is one of many by illustrator Mary Margaret LaVoie and photographer David Ruiz along Glass Street. These whimsical works are wheat paste mural “meant to make people smile by being a temporary change of scenery” (PPRWRK). Applied to this building and others along Glass Street, the murals are removable and intended to be impermanent.

Photo by Glass House Collective (Photo 1)

The Yarn-Bombed Trolley by artist Olga de Klein at the intersection of Glass Street and North Chamberlain Avenue is perhaps the most colorful and tactile piece of public art installed as part of the Better Block celebration. Assembled from wood frames and knitted—yes, all of that is knitted!—skeins of yarn, Olga’s trolley is meant to celebrateEast Chattanooga’s historic Beltline.

Olga’s fantastic piece of public art served as a fabulous backdrop to entertainment throughout the day.

In the afternoon, belly dancers enlivened the street with their performance art. They also got kids into the act.

Not all of the art on Glass Street that day was outdoors. One of the coolest Better Block installations was the Bank Art Center conceived and orchestrated by James McKissic.

Photo by James McKissic (Photo 2)

James and his volunteers transformed the old, cluttered Hamilton National Bank at the corner of Glass Street and North Chamberlain Avenue into a contemporary, swanky, and sophisticated art gallery featuring live music and a quarter of James’ own private collection of African-American art. The end result was simply astounding: the lighting, the music, the art. The Bank Art Center was perfection realized.

To really understand the incredible accomplishment that is the BankArt Center, one has to see a before and after comparison. During the National Day of Service, I was in charge of cleaning out the former Hamilton National Bank. I’m not kidding: it was like an episode of Hoarders. In fact, when I was rounding up volunteers for the task, I described it as such. The entire space was filled with old mattresses, clothes, dead appliances, toys, and furniture. The ceiling tiles were sagging and stained, the dust and the debris of abandonment coated every surface, and graffiti (the ugly kind) tagged the interior walls. Throw in a bunch of dead cockroaches, spider webs, and a box of old razors, and you can pretty well guess how this place looked. On the Day of Service my team of volunteers and I cleaned the mess, but, despite its new shine, the building was still lifeless when we left. To see how James and his volunteers infused the space with life is just inspiring.

Photo by James McKissic (Photo 3)

Near James’ Bank Art Center is one of my contributions to Better Block: the Creative Cross Walk.

Applied to the roadway with sprayed chalk paint and regular chalk with the help of Joshua Jorgensen and other volunteers, the cross walk is meant to be a whimsical addition to the street.

The design for the cross walk is intended to reference the Glass Street logo while adding a punch of color and fun to the surface of Glass Street. The G was added at the last minute, but I think it is a nice compliment to the overall composition.

Speaking of the Glass Street logo, a huge version of it was painted on the building at the end of the built-up portion of Glass Street during the Better Block event.

During the most recent Better Block work day, I nearly froze to death pressure washing the side of that building so that this logo could be painted. I am so happy to see that the painting of the logo turned out so well!

Other painting was underway during the Better Block celebration on Glass Street as well. Across from Glass House Collective’s building, DJ Scuba Steve blasted out a non-stop stream of party jams while artists Deep Space Art Studio, Kingdom Graphica, Kevin Bate, and Devon Kronenberg created The Urban Renaissance Mural Project. “A community improvement project that utilizes street art as a means to uplift community pride and enhance the appreciation of graffiti as a legitimate art form”, The Urban Renaissance Mural Project gave these artists an opportunity to “showcase their creative talents” (Better Block Glass Street).

Work (in progress) by Deep Space Art Studio & Kingdom Graphica

Work (in progress) by Kevin Bate

Work by Devon Kronenberg

The Urban Renaissance Mural Project also gave kids a chance to get involved in making temporary—in the case of the kids’ wall, VERY temporary—art.

And, when DJ Scuba Steve took breaks, live music from just down the street filled the sonic void.

Local Architect Heidi Hefferlin is responsible for the most permanent installation of the Better Block festival: the community space at the corner of Glass Street and North Chamberlain Avenue.

The idea for a community space at the intersection of Glass and Chamberlain was initially raised by several teams at the AIA design charette held back in July of last year. Then, after the idea received such an emphatically positive response from Glass Farm Neighborhood residents during the community meetings that Shawanna Kendrick and I hosted, I included a schematic representation of the public space on the streetscaping plan for the Glass Street District.

I never imaged, though, that the as-yet-unnamed public space would become a reality so soon! Through a great and meaningful contribution of her time and skill, Heidi produced the construction documents for the Glass Street public space. She also helped construct the canopy for the space along with a team of dedicated and hard-working volunteers. The result of their labor is marvelous, and I am so happy to see this addition to the Glass Street built environment!

The public space may be the most permanent thing to emerge from Better Block Chattanooga, but artist Charlie Brouwer’s Rise up Chattanooga is the tallest.

Charlie Brouwer, shown on the left, assembled the enormous, soaring sculpture, Rise Up Chattanooga, from hundreds of ladders donated by Chattanooga residents, businesses, and non-profit organizations. As I understand it, the sculpture is intended to show how we all, collectively and together, help each other rise up to meet life’s challenges. That’s an optimistic and uplifting message, and I hope it is one that we continue to use as we revitalize Glass Street and other neighborhoods in Chattanooga.

Photo by Our Ampersand Photography (photo 4)

Late in the afternoon on the day of Better Block, Charlie attached the last ladder to his sculpture.

The late afternoon also found people just hanging out on Glass Street, enjoying the ambiance of the street fair.

A number of subtle components went into creating this genial day-long urban environment.

There were planters made by Travis Yeagley.

There were pots of flowers assembled lovingly by other volunteers.

There were also attractive chalk-written sidewalk signs.

All of these components go a long way in creating the warm and welcoming street environment essential to a healthy urban neighborhood.

Food also played a prominent role in the success of the Better Block event on Glass Street.

As I had to explain to a non-Southerner, in the South, deep-fried Oreos are an essential component of any street fair.

Glass House Collective filled the center of Glass Street with tables and chairs, turning the domain of the automobile into a temporary pedestrian plaza. Here, Better Block party-goers could sit, relax, eat, and converse while enjoying the excitement of the day.

Better Block Chattanooga was the most enjoyable and diverse street fair I have ever experienced, and I am so happy to have been a part of it.

I have read that, in order to be successful, an individual must do what he or she is passionate about or finds worthwhile. Well, revitalizing urban neighborhoods and communities through Architecture and Urban Design is what I am most passionate about and what I find most worthwhile. Working with Glass House Collective towards the revitalization of Glass Street has been a joy and a privilege, and I am so looking forward to continuing the effort to “bring life back to Glass Street and Glass Street back to life”.
Article written by: David Barlew, Jr. on 02/26/13, view original post here.


Photo credits:

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are by David Barlew, Jr. Photographs not by David Barlew, Jr. are enumerated and referenced below.

Photo 1: Glass House Collective. <https://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash3/602217_488879817841769_1823298107_n.jpg>. Web. 26 February 2013.

Photo 2: McKissic, James. <https://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-frc1/538246_10200246561860559_1211327546_n.jpg>. Web. 26 February 2013.

Photo 3: McKissic, James. <https://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash3/48121_10200246563780607_69280636_n.jpg>. Web. 26 February 2013.

Photo 4: Our Ampersand Photography. <https://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/406174_582667763440_1097145406_n.jpg>. Web. 26 February 2013.

Additional sources:

Glass House Collective. “Better Block Glass Street”. <http://www.betterblockglass.com/>. Web. 26 February 2013.

PPRWRK. “What is PPRWRK”. <http://www.ppr-wrk.com/who-is-pprwrk/>. Web. 26 February 2013.