March 15, 2012

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The size of Chattanooga’s relatively small downtown makes it a comfortable walking experience. As Main Street continues to develop, the prospect of walking and biking from destinations on Main Street to the North Shore is appealing not only because it’s seen as a trendy thing to do, but because it’s practical and even inviting as urban designers continue to plot a more attractive path.

The paramount challenge is, of course, addressing the spaces in-between. To that end, a series of concepts presented by specialized teams under the moniker Urban Design Challenge has indentified some of the highest-profile cases in the city’s urban hub where improvement is needed.

As this week’s issue hits the stands, the next Urban Design Challenge presentation is happening Thursday, March 15, at the Majestic Theater. During this meet, Elemi Architects and its team members—Eric Meyers, Bradley Shelton, Matthew Wignet, Bob McNutt, Jared Chastain and Joseph Sawyer—will discuss the challenges of their project, the 4th Street Corridor.

We spoke with Eric Meyers and asked him what the challenges were for this important piece of the downtown puzzle and what impact highway development by Tennessee Department of Transportation currently under way makes when the section of the project between Interstate 24 and the Olgiati Bridge is considered.

“First, we had to expand the idea of the corridor,” Meyers said. “Originally, it had not included areas on the North and South sides of 4th Street that we believed were major factors in bringing all the elements together. As well, the original idea of the corridor did not include Cameron Hill and the Blue Cross Blue Shield campus. Including that major influence was absolutely critical.”

Then there’s TDOT and the improvement plans for the stretch of highway from I-24 to the Olgiati Bridge.

“That major development is an enormous influence on the center of downtown and the 4th Street Corridor. We, as urban design professionals and concerned citizens, have approached TDOT about the impact their design plans will have on 4th Street and we continue to have serious concerns about those plans.”  

Meyers and his team think there are concepts that TDOT should incorporate.

“You have to think of it in a more holistic sense,” he said. “Property owners, merchants, residents, visitors ... this area affects all of us and the 4th Street Corridor is an opportunity to create better access, a better environment for business and a better image for our city. It’s vitally important.”

For its part, TDOT has made efforts to expand its vision when it comes to this section of the project, which is clearly going to have major implications with regard to downtown, by including discussions contemplating pedestrian traffic and bike lanes. But are these offerings enough?

For Meyers and the Elemi group, new strategies need to be considered. Visions of a more thoughtful and holistic design for 4th Street will be on display at the Urban Design Challenge presentation. We hope it inspires everyone to continue the conversation that Elemi starts after the evening comes to a close.

Learn more about the Urban Design Challenge and get more info on the architectural vision of the 4th Street Corridor at urbandesignchallenge.com.

March 15, 2012

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