Better Block reviving Chattanooga's Glass Street

Better Block reviving Chattanooga's Glass Street

February 17th, 2013 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

Ashley Finch gets materials to line planters on Glass Street. Trees will be planted in the sidewalk containers next Saturday.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

No vacant buildings will be boarded up on Glass Street next weekend. No trash will be scattered across vacant lots. No brush piles will sit in empty storefront corners.

On Saturday, for just a single day, Glass Street will look as it should, thanks to the local Glass House Collective that is copying a national program that transformed decaying city blocks to highlight their potential.

"Glass Street is coming alive," said Teal Thibaud, Glass House director of communications.

Volunteers already have been putting dirt in tree planters for landscaping, painting some buildings and taking the boards off others.

Empty stores are being replaced with pop-up flea markets and eateries. And Virginia-based artist Charlie Brouwer started assembling a ladder sculpture called Rise Up Chattanooga intended to embody the citywide support for Glass Street and the community's own determination to progress.

The goal is to draw attention to the possibility of a rejuvenated Glass Street, but eventually the community initiative hopes to establish it as a commercial corridor in Chattanooga.

In other cities the Better Block concept has spurred growth, said Thibaud.

Thibaud and Glass House Collective director Katherine Currin visited a Better Block community in Memphis in November 2012. Six businesses came to Broad Street in Memphis about a year after a Better Block project had been implemented, Currin said. The bike lanes and murals used to do the Better Block event are still in place and used to beautify the area, said Currin.

Glass Street resident Gail McKeel hopes the same transformation will happen in her neighborhood.

"It's going to be a thriving community again," she said. "There's opportunity here. I'm hoping that somebody will take notice."

McKeel will open The Glass Flea, a pop-up shop in an empty store front for Better Block Glass Street.

James McKissic, a local artist, will set up an African-American art gallery in an old bank building and another volunteer will serve free hot chocolate from another empty store front.

Mary Jackson is one of several entrepreneurs the LAUNCH program who will showcase her business New U at the Better Block.

New U offers fitness classes focused on giving women more confidence about their bodies, said Jackson. She hopes participating in the event will give her business more exposure.

"We want to get more people and be more informative," she said. "I know people are interested but they don't know of me."

Glass Street will be blocked from North Chamberlain Avenue to Wheeler Avenue. Food trucks will be set up along the blocks and the streets will be lined with cafe tables and chairs.

Glass House Collective has assembled a host of volunteers for the event.

Hefferlin and Kronenberg Architects designed Better Block transformation pro bono. Another company provided free concrete. Habitat for Humanity donated trees that will be used for landscaping, and Premier Stone services will put in a community picnic table. A vacant lot will include a stage and become a place where upcoming entertainers and local musicians display their talent.

"Citizens will live what Glass Street can be," said Thibaud. "Then they can start buying into it and taking ownership of what can happen. That's the goal."