Green Alley Project 101

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The Opportunity

To demonstrate the positive community, environmental and economic impacts if our alleys were transformed from linear wastelands to thriving community greenways. This would be done through a Green Alley demonstration project on one of the worst segments of alley in Midtown which could serve as a model for greening of alleys throughout the region.

There is an opportunity to take leadership action in creating a new vision for one of the most under utilized assets of Midtown and the City of Detroit...our alleys. Today our alleys look abandoned with trash, broken pavement, overgrown weeds, and neglected sides of buildings. They are ribbons of blight throughout our communities. Imagine if one by one we changed our alleys into beautiful greenways that people wanted to be in because they expressed the best of our community.

This project represents that leadership action. We plan to transform one of our worst abandoned alleys in Midtown into a beautiful greenway for pedestrians and bicyclists to enjoy the beautiful gardens, stop and shop at the business establishments or gather with a few neighbors to talk about the day.

The alley proposed is a 220' section of an alley off Second Ave between Canfield and Prentis in the heart of Midtown. Along it is a mixed use of homes, restaurants, condominium and apartment buildings and office/light commercial buildings. It currently experiences every undesirable aspect of our alleys from constant trash to abandoned mattresses of the homeless.

And yet, it has key assets that can be used to create and enhance many pedestrian entrances. We have a very committed group of neighbors that are improving their properties and desire for the alley to become a part of the revival.

Long term, this alley greening project would be linked to and become an extension of the UCCA greenway project. One could imagine pedestrians and bicyclists moving throughout the Midtown area on ribbons of green. It would be one of the one of the most unique community passageways in our region.

The Green Alley Deliverables

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The main deliverables of the project are:

  • New surface of the Green Alley would include:
    • 50% of the surface would be beautiful native plants gardens offering year round color and interest. The plants would clean the water that fell in the gardens.
    • 50% would be appropriate surfaces for pedestrians, bicyclists and service/emergency vehicles. It would include:
      • Reused historic paving bricks from a local supplier. This would keep the historical integrity of the area. There would be enlarged "knuckles" of historic brick pavers to hghlight the business and residential entrances on the alley.
      • Permeable / drivable surface designed to support heavy service and emergency vehicles. This would be either a webbed concrete turf-paver or a recycled plastic sub-surface structure. This would have a low ground cover planting.
      • Traditional concrete sidewalk sections with embedded screen reinforcement. This provides a stable structure for the existing storm drains.
    • Deep fabric reinforced sub-base to hold up to a 10 year storm without water going into the storm drain. All water would therefore be kept in the natural water table of our region.
  • Collapsible bollards would be placed at the two ends of the alley to create a safe pedestrian and bicycle zone within the improved area of the alley. This would restrict all vehicular traffic except for service and emergency vehicles, in which case, the bollards would tip down so the vehicle could pass.
  • Community and Waste / Recycling Center including:
    • Waste compactor that will eliminate the need for all other trash containers in the alley. It would have a lock to prevent the trash from being thrown in the alley. This would reduce total costs.
    • Single stream recycling container that locks for use by the entire neighborhood.
    • Historic brick screen (i.e. wall) around the compactor and recycling center with gates for easy access and pickup. This would help maintain the inviting appearance of the alley.
  • Safety Street Lighting - install three high efficiency street lights to improve the lighting so pedestrians and bicyclist can traverse the alley safely and have a sense of security while doing so at night. (As an enhanced element we are recommending the installation of a solar panel / wind turbine power street light to demonstrate the renewable energy / zero-carbon vision for street lighting. We could do this in cooperation with a WSU engineering class. This has been done in Ann Arbor and is being planned for San Diego.)
  • Community Education Platform including:
    • website (or web pages in an existing site)...pictures of the project as well as how to guide, lessons learned, why it's important, local resources and recommended native plants. The website will help attract and support local as well as national and global interests.
    • printed guide for other neighborhoods to green their alleys ...essentially a printed form of the website information for those that need it in this printed form.
    • five community workshops to help other neighborhood groups organize and plan their green alley projects.

Other subsequent enhancements related to the alley, such as artist community contributions (sculptures, ceramics and paintings) will be covered outside this project.

Our Approach

We expect that the project would be started in April 2009 and completed by June 2009. It will require City of Detroit approvals. We have presented the idea to the City Planning Department and received a favorable initial reaction.

Every step would be developed and documented with an eye towards this becoming a model for other future green alley projects. By the end we would be in position share our experience and support others with their projects.

We anticipate having community members participate in the planting of the new flowers, grasses, and shrubs to build ownership of the care of the plants. We intend to form a Cass Farm Block 99 neighborhood group to manage the on-going aspects of the alley.

The Benefits

The benefit stream from this project would begin immediately upon completion of the project in June 2009 and would include:

Environmental Benefits

  • Protects our rivers and lakes by diverting water from storm sewer system into the natural water system where it is cleaned and stored...naturally.
  • Expand the use of recycling...diverting tens of thousands of pounds of waste from landfills.
  • Increased biodiversity with native plants. Removal of invasives.
  • Dramatic reduction of urban heat island effect
  • Promotes low carbon forms of transportation...walking, biking.

Community Benefits

  • Creating a sense of community with shared recycling and waste management.
  • Increase neighborhood pride with the improved appearance of the alley.
  • Changes the mindset of what's possible for our "hidden" alley assets for Midtown and the region.
  • Preserves the historical character of the neighborhood.

Economic Benefits

  • Reduces the cost of waste and recycling management for the neighborhood.
  • Potentially increases property values with the beautiful greenway gardens.
  • Creates new attractive entrance opportunities for businesses on the alley...expanding the "store frontage."

City of Detroit Benefits

  • Reduces the load and maintenance of storm sewers.
  • Removes a form of urban blight...alley blight.
  • Allows business expansion using current assets.


Description Video



Examples of other green alley projects