Monday, April 28, 2008

give us the glass blocks!

David Dewhirst has a novel idea: install glass blocks in the sidewalks of the 100 Block of Gay Street.


Because there's an underground Gay Street below. Take a look at the Knox News article for more detailed information on his plans, but it's basically this: make an Underground District with clubs and bars, a la Seattle and Atlanta. Not exactly breaking new ground, but a good idea. It's already there, waiting to be developed. Gay Street used to be a whole story lower before the city raised it in 1919. The upper sidewalks had glass block installed to provide light to pedestrians who still used the lower sidewalk. "Billed23" commented on the Knox News article and said that as a boy he used to look through the sidewalk and see shoppers moving below. At first, he thought they were rats.
Dewhirst, who owns many of the 100 block buildings, is planning on developing the lower levels. He's asking the city, which has already allocated $2.5 million for streetscape upgrades, to spend an additional $66,000.00 on 12 glass blocks along the block, similar to what's already in front of the Emporium.

Of course, Suburban Knoxvillians have responded with harsh criticism of spending tax dollars on "frivolous ideas" in a "crime-ridden" part of town that "most citizens don't go to anyway." C'mon guys. Get off it. Your're getting your TIFs for Super Walmarts. Give us sixty grand. That's about the same as it would cost for the curb cuts for a KFC in the 'burbs. We wouldn't think twice about that, would we? I guess glass block sidewalks sound like a fancy new waste of money... But think about this: the glass block is historic to that part of downtown. There's still glass dating from 1919 in the sidewalk. Historic districts are more than just the buildings, the streetscape counts towards their character too.

Downtown is a growing, safe, tax-producing part of Knoxville. Guys like Dewhirst have helped make it that way. The city is already spending the money on the sidewalks. The glass blocks don't even make the budget go up over a $2.6 million total cost. It's a drop in the bucket: a drop that would facilitate another level of taxable businesses under Gay Street. In my opinion, the $66,000 is tax money well spent.

Note to City of Knoxville: Don't cheap out.

[note: thanks to brimer for warning me of the perils of pirating photos from the man (KNS). enjoy my amazing original mobile phone photography]


Anonymous said...

it sounds great, much better than what has happened to other underground areas in metropolitans. if you've not seen the documentary "dark days" check it out:

it's about a large group of homeless living underground in NYC until the city forces them out due to health concerns; or consider las vegas, with miles and miles of underground storm drains that became refuge to many homeless to their personal detriment (flooding causes many deaths). (read this book:

i'd say this is not only an investment in improving the city's economy and "fun factor" but also removing the potential for precarious conditions to arise underground in the future.

plus, this has historical significance which is really interesting..

Mickey said...

Cool idea, except it seems like we've got enough work ahead revitalizing the areas above ground. I guess as an investment in the future, $66K doesn't seem too steep, though.

Robert said...

Do we know where the existing $2.5 will be allocated - is it purely an aesthetic improvement, or is this for new development?

Anonymous said...

really poor idea. can we get original?

wait, i know the answer to that.

Chris said...

I like the idea of underground Knox (wtf was with the Un-Gay comment in the article), but $5,500 a block?!? Sweet mother of Jumping Jehosephat!

ck said...

robert- i'm not sure what exactly is allocated. i'll try to find out. i think it's a structural overhaul of the sidewalks. they're mostly in poor condition right now.

anon- it may not be original, but that's not knoxville's style. and i'm not against trying other people's good ideas. dewhirst isn't dumb. if it doesn't stand a good chance of being successful, he wouldn't be doing it.

chris- i'm pretty sure by "block" they mean the a unit of smaller glass blocks like in the picture. that seems like a reasonable price to me for something that can't leak and has to be durable.

Robert said...

ck - here's the answer to my earlier question, found after reading the article you linked:

"This is the first year that funding has been granted for South Gay's 100 and 200 blocks. The city has set aside $2.5 million for streetscapes, support structures, new street lights, trees, street furniture and concrete."

Overall, I am excited that K-town is spending the money to revitalize this area of Downtown. As a once resident of Knoxville (3 years ago) and a soon-to-be resident of the 100 block, the Downtown area is a principle part of my defense of Knoxville's inherent value (this defense being given to snobby/skeptical friends and family).

It's beautiful, walkable and has a bevy of restaurants, bars and shops. It truly is a gem, and any work - either above or below ground is a step in the right direction.


Chrissy Johnson said...

The glass blocks are lovely and I'm sure I wouldn't catch my stilleto boot heel in them every day like I do the current venting/grating that sprinkles Gay Street every day.

Chrissy Johnson said...

The glass blocks are lovely and I'm sure I wouldn't catch my stilleto boot heel in them every day like I do the current venting/grating that sprinkles Gay Street every day.

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