One of the most used urban areas in Chattanooga will be getting renovations as a result of national grant funding awarded to the city and a community action plan focused on improving public spaces.
The yet-to-be-determined projects will focus on the intersection of Georgia Avenue, Market Street and 11th Street near Patten Towers to make improvements to the safety and experience of both those passing through the area and residents who spend time on the surrounding streets and sidewalks.
"Sidewalks surrounding Patten Towers were measured as one of the most sociable and actively used public spaces," according to a release from the Chattanooga Design Studio. "As it is today, this public space does not provide enough comfort to spend time and mingle. Seating is limited, lighting is inadequate and the empty ground floors deter many people from passing through or spending time here."
City and community partners will meet with residents this fall to get project ideas for the area where one of Chattanooga's largest community housing buildings anchors a five-way traffic pattern. The partners will then work with designers to formulate several plans for presentation. Those plans will be tested to see if they should be implemented long term.
The city and its partners — Chattanooga Design Studio, YMCA of Greater Chattanooga, The Enterprise Center and Chattanooga Public Library — are hesitant to give examples of what changes could be coming until they get more public input. They will be meeting with some of Patten Towers' more than 200 residents as well as other user groups, like those in the upgraded Edney Building across East 11th Street, to determine what they'd like to see done.
One public meeting has already taken place. Residents recommended widening sidewalks, increasing lighting and even closing a 250-foot section of Georgia Avenue to vehicle traffic behind the Pickle Barrel and along Patten Towers. The small cut-through could then be turned into a pedestrian area. That idea will likely be tested in the upcoming months in short stints.
"When you look at the streetscape, we recognize there are challenges with the side road there [Georgia Avenue] and how it intersects," said Bill Rush, executive director of the James A. Henry Community YMCA. "We're just trying to promote more of a neighborhood approach to it so people feel welcomed on all sides of the street. We want to encourage a multi-transportational model and do it in a way to promote those goals in a safe way."
Others would like to see the benches removed to discourage loitering and illegal activity that has taken place at the intersection. The site is regularly among the most visited by emergency responders every year in the city.
"The benches need to go. The benches are a problem. They bring the wrong people," Patten Towers resident council member Michael Moore said. "Sometimes guys will come along selling drugs, sitting around all day. Once you take those benches out, there will be no place for that. We're trying to put a new look on this tower, and that right there is the main thing I'm looking at."
The intersection meshes different user groups in a small area with a variety of needs. There's foot traffic for the nearby City Hall. Others are heading to the library. Diners to Pickle Barrel. Cars traversing the tricky intersection. And Patten Towers residents sitting on the benches outside the housing complex.
A public space survey conducted last year identified the area as one in need of improvements. A lot of the people who travel through the area walk around the seating outside Patten Towers to avoid intruding on the residents, design studio Urban Design Coordinator Lindsey Willke said.
"A part of the study and philosophy of this is moving toward long-term change," Willke said. "A lot is driven by community and resident input. No matter what's put out there, it's really for us to learn and respond to feedback and move toward longer-term implementation. This is about testing things in public areas."
The project is under the scope of the city's Public Realm Action Plan — which is focused on improving the city's Innovation District.
The partners were one of five teams nationally to be awarded a $100,000 "Made to Move" grant from Degree Deodorant and Blue Zones, a national brand that studies populations to apply best practices for cities. The grant's purpose is to advance transportation through local project developments with an ultimate goal of making mid-sized cities more walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly environments.
The $100,000 grant funds pilot projects to test such improvements. The total cost of the project will be about $180,000. The partners have until July 2020 to implement the projects.
Some improvements are already underway.
The YMCA is overseeing the reopening of Bingo Market as part of the nonprofit's healthy living initiative. The market is being rebuilt in the ground floor of Patten Towers. It was previously located at the site but closed during an ownership change. The YMCA worked with a new group that bought the towers last year to reopen the food shop.
"Public spaces are not just about streets and sidewalks but ground floors," Willke said. "The ground floor could be a beautiful space. They're renovating it now to have better space. The market will do a lot to have ground floor revitalization."