Los Angeles’s alleys have a bad reputation. They’re perceived, rightly or wrongly, as dirty, dangerous places; havens for illicit activity. All that might change soon, thanks to a demonstration project planned for South Los Angeles’ South Park neighborhood. Called the Avalon Green Alley Network Demonstration, the project aims to transform at least eight segments of alleyway into an inviting pedestrian thoroughfare.
The Avalon project is an initiative of Parks for People—Los Angeles, a Trust for Public Land program that has been working toward a citywide green alleys program for four years, since the USC Center for Sustainable Cities released a report on Los Angeles’s alleys’ potential as environmental and social resources. The report looked at green alleys programs in other large cities, including Chicago and Seattle, and concluded that LA’s 900 linear miles of alleys might be put to use solving another of the city’s major problems: a shortage of public space.
What does it mean to “green” an alley? As Laura Ballock and Tori Kjer, both of Parks for People, explained, it’s more than just improving stormwater drainage or providing cafe seating. In South Park, alleys targeted for greening will receive one of two treatments. First-tier alleys will see asphalt pavement replaced with absorptive materials, to reduce stormwater runoff. They’ll also be planted with vegetation and fruit trees and accented with public art. The remaining alleys will be cleaned up and beautified with vines and artwork. One section of alley in the Avalon area will be transformed into a pedestrian mall, with vehicular access prohibited.
As important as these physical changes to LA’s alleys may be, they won’t make a real difference unless the city’s residents embrace them. To that end, Parks for People has already done extensive outreach in South Park. According to Kjer, residents who hadn’t previously met their neighbors are working together, attending meetings and forming “green teams” to clean their alleys. On the design side, the demonstration project will include pedestrian-scale elements and other graphic cues to encourage regular use. “We want it to become something so that you don’t avoid alleys, but go down alleys because they look cool, and maybe are better than the sidewalk,” Ballock said.
Parks for People chose South Los Angeles as the site of their green alley demonstration project because of the “possibility for real impact,” Kjer said. The area, which has been neglected in previous rounds of infrastructure improvements, is notoriously park-poor. In addition, its proximity to the Los Angeles River means that any reduction in stormwater runoff will aid the local ecology. “We could’ve chosen alleys in a more affluent part of the city, where there would be less barriers to the project. But for the Trust for Public Land, the mission is land for the people, Kjer said. We haven’t even put a shovel in the ground yet, but the work already paying off. It’s definitely worthwhile.”