Urbanism in Chattanooga: Revitalizing Glass Street

Urbanism in Chattanooga: Revitalizing Glass Street
by David Barlew, Jr. on 09/19/12

Lately, a lot of attention has been paid to the effort to revitalize Glass Street in East Chattanooga, and a lot of Chattanooga residents are curious about this exciting, albeit challenging, endeavor. Since I am involved with Glass House Collective’s effort to bring life back to Glass Street and the surrounding community, I thought it would be helpful to explain what is going on.

On July 26th, Glass House Collective, under the direction of Katherine Currin and Teal Thibaud, hosted the AIA Urban Design Workshop, a design and brain-storming session (known to Architects as a charrette), at their building on Glass Street. Glass House Collective invited residents, business owners, and property owners from the area around Glass Street to attend. The goal of the charrette was to generate and discuss ideas for revitalizing Glass Street. Glass House Collective wanted residents, business owners, and property owners from the area to come up with ideas for making the area safer; ideas for improving the street’s appearance; ideas for incubating neighborhood businesses; and ideas for attracting new investment.

You can watch a video about Glass House Collective’s AIA Urban Design Workshop here.

To assist in this endeavor, Glass House Collective invited Architects from across the State of Tennessee, who were in Chattanooga attending the AIA Tennessee annual convention, to attend the Urban Design Workshop.

So many architects attended that a bus had to be rented to provide transportation!

In all, more than ninety-five people attended the brain-storming session! Although the goal had been to have just twenty-five people attend the session, the Urban Design Workshop ended up being a huge, packed event with lots of energy and enthusiasm.

To make discussion, sketching, and sharing easier, the group was divided into eight teams, who each sat at their own table. Each team was provided with tracing paper (known to Architects as “trash”), pens, markers, pencils, crayons, maps of Chattanooga, maps of Glass Street, figure ground diagrams, and sketches of the existing buildings along Glass Street. Each team’s discussion was lead by a moderator selected by Glass House Collective.

I was the moderator for Team 4. After we met and exchanged names, I led Team 4 outside. We walked about half-way down Glass Street. As a group, we looked at the buildings, the sidewalks, the storefronts, and whatever else caught our eye. We talked about what needed to be done to improve Glass Street, and, in turn, the surrounding area. We also talked about how we would represent our ideas through sketches, diagrams, and photographs.

When our team got back inside, we sat down and began sketching. And, our team didn’t stop. By the end of the Urban Design Workshop that morning, Team 4 had produced a mountain of sketches, diagrams, and ideas.

And, we weren’t alone. All eight teams generated an incredible quantity of ideas for bringing life back to Glass Street.

That afternoon, everyone had the opportunity to see what each team had developed during the Urban Design Workshop. Glass House Collective reserved a meeting room at the Chattanooga Convention Center, and representatives from each team took turns presenting his or her team’s ideas.

After the presentations, it became very apparent that Glass House Collective’s mission of revitalizing Glass Street had just received a huge jolt of new energy.

Glass House Collective was also left with a huge amount of sketches.

Katherine Currin, Executive Director at Glass House, carefully and methodically collected and assembled the piles of sketches and diagrams. She scanned the images and organized them into a large binder.

Following the Urban Design Workshop, Glass House Collective invited me to take on a greater role in the effort to revitalize Glass Street.

Up until this point, my involvement with Glass Street had been limited to attending the incredible block party in April and picking up litter as part of a neighborhood clean-up.

But, Glass House Collective knew about my volunteer efforts on the Brainerd Road Corridor Master Plan. I had told them about the huge community effort that went into developing and promoting the plan, and I had told them about the countless presentations I had co-delivered in support of the plan to neighborhood associations, property owners, public officials, and volunteer organizations.

Glass House Collective wanted me to do something similar on Glass Street.

Glass House Collective asked me to take a look at the information Katherine had compiled from the Urban Design Workshop and condense it into a presentation that could be delivered to neighborhood groups.

I analyzed the sketches made by all eight teams at the Urban Design Workshop and pulled out twenty-six different ideas. Some of the twenty-six ideas were only mentioned once, and some of the ideas were mentioned over and over by more than half of the teams. Five ideas, which I have called the “Big Five”, were mentioned by almost all of the teams. These are the five ideas around which I have chosen to build the presentation.

The goal of the presentation I have prepared is to receive feedback from the community on the ideas that were generated at the Urban Design Workshop on July 26. I will be presenting the ideas from the charrette at ten Community Voice Meetings. Glass House Collective and I want to see which ideas resonate with stakeholders: residents, business owners, and property owners in the area. We want the ideas that are pursued to be popular with Glass Street stakeholders, we want Glass Street stakeholders to have a say in what is proposed, and we want Glass Street stakeholders to have ownership over the ideas that guide the revitalization of Glass Street. That is why we are focused so intently on obtaining their feedback and input. It is Glass House Collective’s goal to grow Glass Street from within the community with the people that are there.

The reason for all of this sketching, presenting, and information gathering is that Katherine and Teal were successful in securing a generous grant from ArtPlace America for Glass House Collective. The capital from the grant will be used to fund placemaking projects; commissions by artists; streetscaping on Glass Street; and facade enhancements along Glass Street. The grant also provides funding for performance artists and temporary animations on the street. In other words, the moneys from the grant will be used to bring the ideas developed at the Urban Design Workshop into reality. This is why seeking the community’s input is so important. We want the money from the grant to result in things the community wants and needs.

While I have been preparing the boards for the community presentations, Shawanna Kendrick has been busy doing important community organizing work with the neighborhood associations, residents, property owners, and business operators around Glass Street. She has been busy informing the community about the upcoming Design Vision meetings and extending invitations to people for the meetings. She is also acting as my co-presenter during the Design Vision Meetings.

So far, since compiling the sketches, Shawanna and I have presented to two groups: the Glass Street Merchants Association on September 10 and the Glass Farm Neighborhood Association on September 11.

However, this is just the beginning. There will be ten Community Voice Meetings. Five will be hosted by Glass House Collective, and it is hoped that five community partners will volunteer their spaces for five more meetings.

So far, three of the ten meetings have been scheduled.

The first will take place on Wednesday, September 26, at 5:30 pm at Glass House, and dinner will be provided.

The second will occur during lunch at noon at Glass House on Monday, October 1; lunch will be provided.

The third Community Voice Meeting will be hosted by Glass House on Wednesday, October 10, at 5:30 pm, and dinner will be provided.

I invite anyone with an interest in Glass Street to attend these meetings, particularly those who live, work, worship, or own property on Glass Street.

Glass House Collective’s impressive effort to revitalize Glass Street is just getting off the ground, and I am so excited to see what results from the hard work required by this project. I am also extremely thankful to have the opportunity to contribute to such a worthy goal. I know that the process will be difficult, and I know that the obstacles will be challenging. But, I believe efforts like this are critically important to maintaining the health of Chattanooga as a city, and I am so happy to be involved.


Written by David Barlew, Jr. for David Barlew Architects, Inc.

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