Building a Better Block in East Chattanooga

Chattanooga loves to change. Our city began as a small trading outpost on the banks of the Tennessee River. It later became a famous railroad stop. Once notorious for its pollution, it cleaned itself up and became greener. Today, it continues that culture of transformation by paying attention to areas that have been long overlooked and restructuring them into gems the entire metropolitan area can enjoy. Glass Street, located in East Chattanooga at the foot of Missionary Ridge, is one such neighborhood.

Volunteers prepare for the February 23 Better Block event.

On Saturday, February 23, Glass Street will undergo a one-day transformation in an initiative known as Better Block. The event promises two key benefits for the community: a day-long celebration, including art, food, shopping and entertainment, and a vision for the long-term redevelopment of the Glass Street neighborhood.

A Festival with a Purpose

Better Block is an initiative that uses the collaborative efforts of grassroots community organizers, businesses, property owners, and volunteers to focus on one street in an urban area that is not functioning at its optimal level. They demonstrate its potential in a one-day festival that showcases what it could be long-term. The organization hones in on four major areas that generally need attention:

  1. Safety. When people feel unsafe in a certain area of a city, it affects who does business there, who walks the streets, and who moves in. Addressing this concern is one of the first tasks of building a better block for citizens. This may include such things such as better lighting or clearer windows.
  2. Shared Access. There should be various modes of transportation that bring people to the area. Do buses stop on the street? Is there room for bikes, pedestrians?
  3. Stay Power. What would make people want to keep visiting the area and bring friends and family? Does it have some type of positive identity it can be known for? Can people find good food, fun activities, interesting art and things to buy there? If not, there is plenty to add.
  4. “Eight-to-Eighty” and Dog Owners. When a community is healthy, it should be a place where children, the elderly, and pet lovers feel free to roam and linger. Finding venues that welcome these populations puts others at ease as well.

The first Better Block event was held on a street in Dallas, Texas in 2010. Jason Roberts, who led the movement, commented that it didn’t cost lots of money to do, but in one day they demonstrated that they could change the psychology and the economics of the street just by doing a few simple things. First, they slowed the traffic down to one lane. They added plants and outdoor seating, music, and opportunities for families to participate in activities together. They invited small businesses in to set up “pop-up” (one-day demo) businesses. People eagerly came out to enjoy the festivities and were amazed at the dramatic and inviting changes.

A Celebration… and a Catalyst

East Chattanooga is ripe for change. Harriet Tubman, the housing project that once dominated the area with a notorious swagger has been shut down. Neighborhood kids socialize in front yards and along the streets. Though many storefronts remain vacant, numerous churches, hair salons and corner stores dot the streetscape, providing a foretaste of what this neighborhood could be.

Planters have been installed and are ready for the trees to arrive on Saturday.

In the midst of it all, Glass House Collective has helped to organize neighbors who are working towards the revitalization of the main thoroughfare in their community. For months now, these individuals have been meeting to dream, debate and plan the February 23 Better Block event that will be a catalyst for the changes they hope to see. (And there’s more to come: Glass House Collective plans to install a pocket park, bus shelters, bike racks and street lighting throughout this year.)

There is truly something for everybody to participate in at Better Block Glass Street. From 11 am to 5 pm, there will be vendors, games, family-friendly activities, pop-up businesses, café seating, unveilings of art installations, tree planting, music, train rides, community murals and more. The entire city in invited to participate and be inspired to catch the vision and carry it on.

Click here to learn more. Click here for a map of the venue.

Schedule of Events and Exhibits:

Better Block Glass Street will take on Saturday, February 23 from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm.

  • Rise Up – A sculpture built using 100’s of ladders borrowed from individuals, organizations, and businesses from across the city. Project Lead:  Artist, Charlie Brouwer // Last ladder added at 4:30p
  • Yarn Bombed Trolley – A mixed-media mural celebrating East Chattanooga’s historic Beltline. Portions of the mural include yarn knit by residents from the Glass Street community. Project Lead: Artist, Olga de Klein
  • Pop Up: Warming Station – A place to get free hot chocolate, listen to poetry, and warm up. Project Lead: Mark Making // 11a-5p
  • Pop Up: BAC Art Center (Bank Art Center) – Exhibition featuring work from renowned African American artists, live jazz, and kid’s crafts. Project Lead: James McKissick, Carmen Davis, Shane Morrow //11a-4p
  • Pop Up: Harambee – Harambee is an interactive art installation that combines personal portraits, a large scale floor mural map and citizen engagement to celebrate the people of East Chattanooga. Project leaders: Artists Sheena Benavente, Keren Beddoe, and Katie Holden// 11a-5p
  • Pop Up: Glass St Flea Market – Project lead: Gail McKeil //11a-5p
  • Pop Up: Wood Wise & Allasso Shoes – A shop offering affordable shoes and repurposed furniture. //11a-5p
  • Pop Up: Glass Street Community Bike Shop – A place where kids in the community can bring their bikes to get fixed for the day. Project Lead: Reis Costa // 11a-5p
  • Trophy Making – Kids activity inside of Custom Cycles. Project Lead: Art 120 // 12p-4p
  • Cooking Demonstration & Vendor Fair – Community resource booths and a cooking demonstration. Project lead: Virginia College’s Andi Cagle and East Chattanooga Improvement
  • Community Space Ribbon Cutting – Join us in celebrating Glass Street’s new community space. Project Lead: Architects, Hefferlin+Kronenberg //3pm
  • Insects Sculptures – assembled out of pallet wood and painted by youth during Better Block inside the new community space. Project lead: Zachary Reynolds, Wood Wise //11am
  • Main to Glass Bike Ride & Coffee – Ride begins at Velo 509 e. main //meet at 10 am, ride starts at 11am
  • Glass Street Shop & Tshirt Making – Screen printing the Glass Street brand on 250 FREE t-shirts. Project lead: FTH Apparel, and Love & Squalor // 1p-3p
  • Glass House Showcase – Showcasing the future plans for Glass Street.//11a-4p
  • Tree Planters – Installation of Sixteen 2’x2’ tree planters. Project lead: Travis Yeagley, Habitat for Humanity, & W.D. Scott Co. // 11am
  • Banners – Installation of sixteen banners featuring the new Glass Street brand Project lead: Wes Mohney
  • The Urban Renaissance Mural Project & DJ ScubaSteve – 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. Project lead: Deep Space Art Studio & Kingdom Graphica // 11a-5p
  • The Urban Renaissance Mural Project, Part II – In addition to the graffiti component, the Urban Renaissance Project provides other visual artists an opportunity to showcase their creative talents. Project lead: Kevin Bate & Devon Kronenberg // 11a-5p
  • Glass/ Paper/ Scissors – PPRWRK is installing temporary paste-up murals along Glass Street. Project lead: illustrator Mary Margaret LaVoie and Photographer David Ruiz. //paste demo at 2pm
  • Bike Valet – Project Lead: Jenny Park & Outdoor Chattanooga//11a-5p
  • Pop Up: LAUNCH – Entrepreneurs enrolled in the LAUNCH program will be stationed in different locations throughout the day. Businesses include: Smart Cushion, LSMB Business Solutions, Wee Care Diaper Disposal, New U Fitness, ACE Net Cafe, Uptown Uncorked, FTH Apparel, Allasso Inc., & Absolute the Essence of Beauty.
  • Food Truck Court // 11a-3p
  • Glass St. Scavenger Treasure Hunt – Interactive Scavenger Hunt through the Better Block festivities with a TREASURE for the winners at the end.  Project Lead: Jennifer Holder & Elizabeth Wells // 2pm
  • Installation of Creative Cross Walks // 10am
  • Party Bus to the Polls – Enjoy a free lunch and ride to vote in the municipal election. Project Lead: Creative Citizenship // 12pm
  • Make Your Mark Mural – Come and paint a mural on Glass Street with the team of Owl Hill. Absolutely no artistic skill is needed, and all ages are welcome to participate. You’ll be helping turn a plain white storefront into a colorful candy store design. Project Lead: Owl Hill & Michael Goins //11am until completed
  • Free Train Rides – The conductors from Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum will be handing out free train ride tickets all day for train departures at 12:50, 2:00, 3:10, 4:20.
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