The hundreds of miles of alleys that run through South Los Angeles often look more like dirty dumping grounds than inviting places to stroll.
Littered with furniture and other debris, overgrown with vegetation, lacking pedestrian lighting or other amenities, and occasionally gated off to limit nuisance activities, they generally feel isolated and unwelcoming.
The Avalon Green Alley Network (below) is retrofitting two alleys with permeable pavement to infiltrate and clean approximately two million gallons of rainwater a year. They and the remaining five alleys will be spruced up with gardens, new street trees (and fruit trees), art, and lighting. Area crosswalks will also be improved.
Once complete, the alley network squeezed between South Park and the South Los Angeles Watershed Park should help make it easier for youth and families to move more easily and safely between home, two schools, the grocery store, and the two parks.
The launch of the project dates back to 2010, when the local Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA/LA) was funded to develop the South Los Angeles Green Alley Master Plan. The plan was to include a more extensive network of green alleys, streets, and community connections beyond the Avalon network. When the CRA was dissolved in 2012, stewardship over the program was transferred to the Bureau of Sanitation.
Some of the literature available on the green alley project focuses largely on the environmental benefits of capturing and filtering runoff, and refilling L.A.'s aquifer. Which might seem like an odd thing to lead with, given how long it has been since the sky has had a good cry over Los Angeles.
But alleys like those targeted for makeovers tend to flood and remain flooded whenever it does rain, creating a gross and potent garbage stew. This project should help alleviate that problem while also preventing the accompanying breakdown of the alleyway surfaces to such a degree that they come to resemble dirt roads.
All that is great, as is the idea (fingers crossed) that a more active, well-lit, and clean space will be less likely to be used as a dumping ground. But what I am most excited about with regard to this project is seeing alleys potentially reclaimed for family activity.
In their inhospitable current state, alleys are often havens for taggers - something which can contribute to a feeling of insecurity in the community. If these spaces can really be reclaimed and made more active, they will offer kids much-needed safe places to play games, skate, or learn to ride bikes.
The more places in South L.A. that kids can just be kids, the better.
Calls to the TPL asking when the current construction project would be finished were not returned, but the sign on the alley at 52nd Street only says it will be finished this summer.
For a look at the makeover on the first segment as it was being completed, please see the TPL's video below.
Sahra is Communities Editor for Streetsblog L.A., covering the intersection of mobility with race, class, history, representation, policing, housing, health, culture, community, and access to the public space in Boyle Heights and South Central Los Angeles.