Glenwood tree sweaters aim to knit tighter community bonds

jshaffer@newsobserver.comJanuary 25, 2014 

— Along Glenwood South on Saturday, the trees stood bundled in wool, their trunks buttoned to the top, branches poking out of sleeves.

The idea – dressing trees in sweaters – might have seemed like a form of charity, considering the temperature hung four degrees below freezing.

But it’s wooly, symbolic art to the merchants and condo-dwellers who live along Raleigh’s busy night-spot strip, a goodwill gesture aimed at promoting street unity.

Ten years ago, hardly a soul walked those eight blocks. Then came a passel of pubs and pizza joints, wine bars and Wolfpack wings, specialty cocktails and rooftop lounges. Then came the apartments and condos and rickshaws and valet parking and hot dog stands ...

They didn’t always get along, especially when dance music and bedtime collided. The solution: Get everybody together and knit.

“This is a neighborhood,” said David Diaz, president and CEO of Downtown Raleigh Alliance. “That’s the essence of it.”

There’s a feeling that the street had suffered as the blocks around Fayetteville rose in popularity and that everyone in Glenwood South needed to look out for one another.

The Glenwood South Neighborhood Collaborative held knitting sessions every Friday for two months, drawing about 50 people overall, a mixture of merchants and residents bent on thriving together.

Often, those who showed up couldn’t crochet or knit a sock, let alone a sweater.

“I bought five bags of yarn,” said Tracy Barnes, a speech pathologist who lives at 222 Glenwood.

“I made 18,” said Susan Commike, who owns an art studio in The Carter Building.

The result: 150 tree sweaters between Hillsborough and Peace streets, all different colors, some of them maybe a little inexpert. They’ll be up for the next month.

“It shows our colors,” said Donna Belt, who owns Spiritworks, an art and writing studio. “It shows our personality. I love that they’re not perfect.”

The coalition has been managing strife and fears of decline on Glenwood for the past month. The idea to collaborate grew out of complaints about noise going to the City Council, the feeling that business owners had grown complacent and worries that the blocks had become pigeon-holed as a 2 a.m. party spot.

Down the road, the group will look at fixing sidewalks, lighting up dark alleys and promoting larger festivals.

For now, the trees are happy with a cheerful and cozy gesture, and for the extra eyeballs they might attract.

Shaffer: 919-829-4818

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