The residents of the NE 28th/29th Alley continue to impress us with their energy and commitment to improving the space.
In only a few months, they have cleared blackberries and other overgrowth from the alley, removed dirt to bring the grade down to that of the surrounding yards, planted trees and other plants donated by a nursery, and are moving forward with laying gravel and potentially murals. Take a look at the three images below to see their progress. We are working with PSU capstone and Master of Architecture students to provide the residents with support they need as they continue to steam forward with their project. An exciting element of the project is that much of the early work was done in the northern portion of they alley due to interest and time, but as residents in the southern part of the alley saw progress, they too have joined the group and are now working with our students to clear their area and establish a vision for improving the space.
The southern portion of the alley. Prior to the start of the project, the entire length of the alley had similar conditions.
This alley was a part of an alley clean up event conducted as a part of Concordia University‘s day of action with SOLVE providing drop boxes to haul away materials. Concordia Neighborhood Association coordinated this event and has maintained an interest in improving its many alleys since that time. Unfortunately, since that event, many of the alleys have filled in again with blackberries and other plants. One unique element of this alley is that although overgrowth has long been a problem, the residents have continued to add gates and access to the alley as they repair or replace fences.
Step 1: Clearing Overgrowth
As the residents clean out the alley, the space begins to attract the attention of children and pets who play in the cleared space.
On the NE 28th/29th Alley (between Killingsworth and Jarrett), the residents organized themselves to clean the alley out again, but this time with a plan to improve the surface to stop overgrowth from returning. Much of this was driven by the need to access the alley which over the years had filled in and was 1-2 feet higher than the residents’ yards. This grade difference caused many problems. Some neighbors were planning to build retaining walls to keep the alley from eroding into their yards.
Step 2: Establishing a Plan
Residents and students discuss the goals of the project and the steps needed to achieve them.
By early February, the residents had already discussed the need to remove top soil as a key early step. A meeting organized by PSU capstone students helped them to solidify these plans and the immediate steps that would need to follow to stabilize the soil. The meeting also was an opportunity for residents on the southern portion of the alley to hear about progress to the north and express their interest in joining the activities.
Step 3: Removing Soil and the First Round of Plantings
The alley after the leveling and a first round of plantings. The residents moved fast and gained momentum.
At the meeting they realized they had many resources available to them and were all willing to chip in money to pay for the materials they couldn’t get donated. Through contacts, they were able to arrange a backhoe and source plants for free and were willing to pay for the drop boxes needed to remove the soil as well as the gravel that they would cover the surface with. The picture shows the alley following the regrading efforts and the planting of the first batch of donated plants.
Step 4: Gravel and a Second Round of Plantings
Pictures of the northern end of the alley including distinctive resident entrances onto the alley.
The residents moved quickly to stabilize the surface material once the soil was exposed. They all chipped in money and paid to install a subsurface root barrier to stop the blackberries from coming back and then covered it with compacted gravel. This created a surface that is drivable and allows for bike riding but also allows rainwater to permeate into the soil and avoids mud. Many of the residents are adding their own unique landscaping to their alley “front door” such as brick work, steps, pea gravel and planters (as shown in the pictures).
Step 5: Expanding the Project
View down the southern portion of the alley with gravel path on the left and planting area on the right.
Residents on the north part of the alley began working in January but were able to share their thoughts and experiences with their neighbors on the southern part of the alley. A PSU student-led workshop in February allowed the whole alley to come together. The result was that residents on the southern half joined in, clearing blackberries, dirt, and adding gravel and planting areas to their part of the alley. At this point, the alley can easily be walked and most has compacted gravel.
The residents are continuing to work on the alley and report that their children are already enjoying the new space and they find themselves spending time in the alley chatting with neighbors over a glass of wine. We’re continuing to work with them on the next steps and how they can maintain the space and grow their community.