Can Little Plans Inspire Big Change?

April 23-25th, 2015, 2200 Glass Street


As Glass House Collective rang in our third year, it only made sense to gather experts in neighborhood revival from around the nation to generate ideas for the future of Glass Street and the residents. Back in 2012, we partnered with our local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to host an urbanism conference to assess our neighborhood’s needs and provide short and long-term solutions. Having accomplished the goals from our original workshop by 2015, it was time for a new plan. Architects, urban designers, community developers, and artists from Tennessee and beyond joined us at The Next Big Thing conference to tell their stories and hear ours here in the Glass Farms Neighborhood. This conference followed in the footsteps of the Next City Vanguard Conferences, which were held in cities all over the world including Chattanooga in 2014.


As the Glass Street community undergoes revitalization, GHC realized not all projects are achievable without the small steps in between. Funding for the conference was generously granted from the Lyndhurst Foundation to cover admin, supplies, and travel accommodations. This conference brought together people who put in the time and research to aim for a big change with small actions, all within 24 hours. We were also able to further raise awareness for the great need in the Glass Street community and open the door for more partners to come forward and join our mission, planning not for the community, but alongside it.


The goals of the conference were to produce creative, scalable, and realistic project ideas that would improve the neighborhood both practically and aesthetically. The newly joined team, facilitated by urban designer Mallory Baches, spent the first evening at a meet and greet hosted by green|spaces. It began with an introduction by Glass House Collective’s Teal Thibaud, followed by a short presentation by Mike Lydon on Tactical Urbanism, during which he encouraged starting small, taking risks, and testing realistic ideas. The group was then dismissed with an invitation to The Flying Squirrel for further casual discussion. 

The second day was spent at the former Alabama Furniture building to put the ideas to paper. The team was split into nine groups, each given a prompt to centralize their ideas with, and two facilitators, a Chattanooga local and a guest from out of town. Then they were later led through the neighborhood to survey the area and meet the residents and business owners. Project ideas were then timeline into those that could be done in a week, a year, and three years, and prepared to be presented the next day. An archive of the presentations can be found here.

Glass House Collective compiled all of the ideas and hit the streets to find out which projects were most important to community members. We used the community’s priorities to create our next work plan, with short and long-term goals to be achieved over the next three years. We quickly got to work and created a How-To Guide with directions, materials, and tools for projects that can be executed within one month. The How-To Guide included eight ‘lighter, quicker, cheaper’ projects that are replicable, scalable, and affordable.

We fundraised for implementation dollars and were able to install seven of the projects by the end of 2016. At the heart of each project is Glass House Collective’s most essential belief: artists who have been empowered to work alongside residents will create a new place and a new story. These projects were all related to the long-term change underway in the Glass Street community, intended to “test” permanent infrastructure and build social capital. Some of the projects to come out of the guide were Pop-Up Movie Nights, Bike Repair Station and Rack, Public Art Gateway Sign, and Sandwich Board Signage.


The Next Big Thing illustrates Glass House Collective’s community-informed planning process and our commitment to meeting the needs of the community. Although we never set out to tackle the residential realm, when our neighbors listed residential improvements as a top priority, we added it to our strategic plan. Understanding the power of partnerships, we recruited Habitat for Humanity’s Neighborhood Revitalization program to Glass Farm. By listening to the true experts of the community, the residents themselves, and responding creatively, we work together to transform the neighborhood.