Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.
The gridded lines of streets and alleys in the city provide potential for green elements to connect through corridors. Seattle has started to designate potential greenstreets throughout the city, providing an emphasis for pedestrians and also a reflection of the site conditions, such as stormwater management and solar access. The following describes the design principles of a Seattle green street.
The following is a concept sketch of Bell Street in Seattle, a developing designated green street. Produced by SVR design.
Chicago is looking at their alleys in relation to the potential they have for stormwater management, heat reduction and energy use – all things that will ultimately enhance the public realm as well. The following list is some of the goals the city has for alley improvements.
The following is a concept sketch of a green alley in Chicago
By looking at both streets and alleys, city stormwater management and public realm could be enhanced at a finer grain, complementing each other and creating connections throughout the city and within systems.
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Walking 300 plus alleys this summer, we saw many different kinds of spaces and functions happening within these small spaces. Our analysis lead us to categorize the alleys into six different types, based on surrounding use and functions.
These categories helped us to pull apart the nuances of all the different alleys in the city and to communicate the types of elements that some alleys might benefit from.
1.High Density Mixed Use
These alleys are narrow and deep, with very large buildings with many surrounding uses including offices, residential, restaurants, retail, parking, and many more.
2.Low Density Mixed Use
These alleys serve residences, restaurants, offices, services, retail, and more, but with lower buildings and more spread out across the alley. They often have space for parking, plants, gardens and generally receive more sun during the day.
Bordering on bars, clubs and restaurants, these alleys are the spaces that could activate the times after dark. They often are pedestrian passage ways at night and have the potential to extend businesses by allowing for additional exterior space.
Alleys in the commercial district are filled with active retail and space for potential business, either temporary or permanent. These alleys can help to bridge the business community and open up new opportunities in retail cores.
Residential usage in multiple story buildings characterise the type of alleys that are multi- family residential. They have the potential to bridge residents and become connecting points in the neighborhood.
6.Single Family District
Alleys in the single family residential category are spaces that separate house and back yards, but could be a connecting point for each block. They also are ripe for potential green infrastructure and biodiversity connections.
Sometimes there are spaces that are used, but in ways that are different then what we would expect. After walking around in alleys all summer, we started to have an eye for the details that would let us know how that alley has been used and cared for in other ways besides just maintenance. We experienced unique physical changes to alleys, elements that bring some joy into these spaces or changes that help to make them more functional for everyday use.
It is exciting to see spaces that are often neglected come to life and that there are already some positive changes being done currently in alley spaces here in Seattle. This is a look into the current subtleties of alley activation taking place in our own back alley.
places to put things
art and expression
addition of nature
Nord Alley in Seattle has become the life of the party.
When the International Sustainability Institute, headed by Todd Vogel, moved into a space in a bordering building, the alley was about to show Seattle what could be done with a little imagination. The ISI is a not-for-profit organization designed to bring world-wide sustainability to the Puget Sound, with specific focuses on transportation and waste.
The beginnings were humble, and involved removing garbage from the alley and encouraging other alley neighbors to participate. The hardest part may have been getting every building on the alley to join in on the effort. Once the entire street was on board to turn the alley from a back space to a used public space, the transformation began. Plants were potted on balconies. First Thursday events were celebrated in the alley with parties. During the World Cup, a screen was placed in the back of a truck and every game was projected in the alley. Free coffee, seats, and a welcoming attitude were provided. Through word of mouth, the alley grew, and one by one the neighbors took responsibility for what they could. Adjacent design firms drafted ideas to hang art in the alley, other neighbors contribute to keeping the alley clean, keeping it lit, and taking care of the plants. It really is a community endeavor.
Excited to be joining in this alley community, we produced some of our initial work at the October 2010 Alley party. Our posters, along with others from a UW design studio, and Jordan Lewis’s photographs were featured at the event. Although Mary and I are in Copenhagen working away, we sent Allan Kempson (and dog Theo) down to the party to snap a few shots of the event. Thanks Todd and Nikki for letting us participate in the fun!
Public art is thriving. Just not in Seattle. In San Francisco any surface is a canvas. Especially alleys. Sometimes groups of artists come together to create murals up and down an entire alley, sometimes it’s the work of individuals, and sometimes it’s Precida Eyes.
When I was looking for the Precida Eyes home base, I became lost and disoriented in the Mission District after getting too hopped up on a perfect Americano from Philz. Asking friendly street folk for directions, proved fruitful. Turns out ‘The Mural People’ as they’re known in the hood are beloved by the community. For good reason. Precida Eyes is a non-profit organization that seeks to enrich Urban beauty through community art initiatives. They offer mural classes, and sponsor public murals in the Mission and around the city, working to build upon a rich street art history in San Francisco, and maintain existing works of art.
In their own words:
“As an inner city, community-based mural arts organization, Precita Eyes Mural Arts Association seeks to enrich and beautify urban environments and educate communities locally and internationally about the process and the history of public community mural art. We maintain a deep commitment to collaborating with the various communities we serve. Our dedication to collaboration guarantees that creative work produced is accessible, both physically and conceptually, to the people whose lives it impacts.”
Public art is a powerful way of engaging the built environment and creating a platform for pedestrian interaction with a city. By promoting local artists to create murals in cities, community bonds and local culture are deeply enriched. Alleys are a perfect place for public art to come into it’s own in Seattle, in the footsteps of San Francisco.
For more information:
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Behind Via Tribunali in Belltown.
This alley in Belltown is lined with low textured buildings, restaurants, businesses and residences. A large part of our alley research was visiting hundreds of alleys in Seattle, photographing them, sketching them, and taking notes on key characteristics and qualities.
This research has formed the base of our understanding of Seattle Alley functions and services, and has given us insight into realistic chances that can be made.
Hanging out in alleys in Seattle seems to be catching on! It is great to see monthly events in the Pioneer Square Nord Alley in connection with the First Thursday art walk marking thier first birthday! In this event, some preliminary posters of the work and research we have collected over the past couple months will be on display. Go check them out, along with great pictures of the alley in action during the World Cup by Jordan Lewis. Here is more info below and a preview of our posters…
The progression of this alley event has also moved on down to Fire House alley where there will be more food and entertainment along with work from Daniel Toole who is also working hard on re imaging alleys.
Come join in the Fun!!
Nord Alley is between 1st Avenue S & Occidental Avenue AND Main St & Jackson St.
Thursday, October 7
5:00pm – 9:00pm
FIRE HOUSE ALLEY
Thursday, October 7
5:00pm – 9:00pm
Fire House All is between 1stAvenue & Alaskan Way AND Yesler & Washington
In our quest for interesting and sustainable alleys around the world, we have stumbled upon a fantastic initiative in Detroit. A community is working to transform a 220’ section of mixed-use alley in midtown. Their key moves include native plants, stormwater drainage, a pedestrian-safe zone, continued service access, all things promoted by The Green Alley Blog as well. Motor City Brewing Works and the Green Garage began the project together in 2008, construction began in April 2010, and the official opening will be next week!
The two companies raised 50K in one of the more progressive measures Detroit has seen recently. Without any legislation regarding green alleys, the group persevered through the design process and red tape. The hope is to provide an example for other alleys throughout the city to be transformed, creating ‘ribbons of green’ through metro Detroit. If Detroit can do it, so can Seattle! One of our purposes of this blog is to unite people from cities all over who are working toward greener cities and alleys.
Image from greengaragedetroit.com
For more information: http://greengaragedetroit.com/index.php?title=Green_alley
Alleys in Seattle exist in a mostly dilapidated state. Big changes such as permeable pavers, stormwater basins, new lighting systems, and reopening walls can be extremely cost prohibitive. While we spend much time musing about how to make these necessary improvements seem, well, necessary, we also like to throw darts at a board of low cost ideas. We talk about what can be added to alleys to improve them, but the more novel idea is what can be taken away (perhaps for free!).
Reductive elements to improve alleys:
Trash Cans and Dumpsters- replace with clear alleys program
Plywood boarding over windows- fix and reopen windows
Trash on ground
Chain link fences and barbed wire
Old broken furniture, bicycles
Storage. Alleys should be clear for active uses like cyclists and pedestrians.
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