Plan looks to cure South LA alleys of ugliness, lack of accessibility

July 5, 2012, 1:09 p.m.

The Avalon Green Alley Network Plan is an effort to clean up and beautify selected alleys in South L.A., as well as make them greener. (José Martinez/OnCentral)

Walking through an alley is almost never pleasant, but the L.A. County arm of the Trust for Public Land (TPL) is looking to change that.

Enter the Avalon Green Alley Network Plan, the TPL's effort to make the alleys, sidewalks and streets of a 35-acre area in South L.A. more walkable, appealing, community-oriented and environmentally-sensible.

"It's more than just green alleys," said Laura Ballock, the project's manager. "We're actually looking at the entire network of streets, sidewalks, crosswalks and alleys. We're looking at all those spaces in between – looking at how they're connected to the schools, supermarkets and parks in this area. So the green alley network is more than just the transformation of alleys."

The project is carrying out what's referred to as the "greening of alleys." Ballock says there's at least two angles to that.

"One can be the literal greening – vegetation," she said. The alley network proposes lining streets with trees, which aren't abundant in the area.

"But we're also looking at greening in the sustainability sense – so introducing permeable paving, for example," said Ballock, referring to a style of pavement that allows for the movement of stormwater through its surface, thereby reducing runoff and capturing pollutants in water. The project also has plans to add LED alley lights, decorative paving, enhanced crosswalks and directional signage.

View Avalon Green Alley Network Plan in a larger map

The map above shows the basic layout of the Avalon Green Alley Network Plan. The black lines represent alleys that the plan is proposing to renovate; the green lines represent proposed tree plantings; the red squares represent crosswalks the plan would enhance.

The Trust for Public Land is a national non-profit whose goal is to ensure that people have access to open space, whether that's in the form of mountains, pocket parks or green alleys. Tori Kjer is a program manager for the L.A. branch.

"Open space has lots of different benefits," she said. "It helps build communities – people get out, they talk to each other, they meet their neighbors. It's also important for community and public health: exercise, fitness, just walking, biking to a park or open space, a place for kids to play. People get to learn more about their natural environment and their communities."

She says the South L.A. location for the green alley network was chosen because of its ideal configuration.

"One of the factors in selecting these alley networks is looking at what potential community connections they can make, and if they fit with places people will want to go: regular trips to the grocery store, school, church, the park," said Kjer. "We consider what community amenities can be found adjacent to the alleys."

The project isn't without its challenges, of course. Ballock said community feedback is an important part of TPL's work, but that until recently, it was difficult to get the community's input because the surrounding community is somewhat "ill-defined." She points to early-onset planning problems: When South L.A. was being "transformed from ranch lands to neighborhood," not much thought went into parks and open space, making the area relatively pedestrian-unfriendly. She pointed to the recent unveiling of South Los Angeles Wetland Park, which in its previous life had been an MTA bus yard.

"It's also ill-defined in the sense that each of these parcels of land have been built out to capacity," added Ballock. "So we're not looking at what was originally intended, which was single-family housing on each plot – it's really very dense because there are multiple families living on each parcel of land practically in this entire area."

And then – as always – there's the question of funding. Ballock said the TPL has enough money to create the plans, but not enough to implement them – yet. But Kjer says they're in the middle of writing grants and are "extremely optimistic." Ballock said the project would put the southside on the cutting edge.

"Introducing these kinds of improvements in an area of L.A. that doesn't normally even receive the general upgrades that are necessary would go beyond that and introduce some really technologically advanced upgrades," said Ballock. "On that level it's more than just green alleys, it really goes beyond what's happening with some other cities in the country."

Kjer echoed that. "Think about creating pedestrian networks throughout Los Angeles to increase walkability and comfort for people as they're walking, biking, skateboarding – moving around the city," she said. "Things like the street trees that provide shade, benches at bus stops, crosswalks so people can cross the street safety, curb cuts for [disabled access]. Those things are all small gestures but go a long way in helping to make it more comfortable and safe for people to be out in the city."

Getting people out into the city, added Ballock, would have some major health benefits, especially in obesity-ridden South Los Angeles. There's also the issue of neighborhood pride.

"Neighborhood pride is key, and is one of the things that the community here wants but doesn't have," said Ballock. "Loving where you live and being proud of it helps you take care of it and speak out against people that aren't taking care of it." She and Kjer also hope for the alleys to be full of local artwork.

If all goes according to plan and all the funding comes through, the TPL hopes to start planting trees by the fall, as a sort of first phase. For the other parts of the project – some of which will require segments of alleys to be closed to traffic – it will still be several years before they get any shovels down. But Kjer says TPL recently secured a state grant to create South L.A. green alley master plan and identify other locations for similar alley networks within an 18-square-mile area.

"We see that as a stepping stone for future green alley network development," said Kjer.

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