Five alleys in the Alberta Ave community can expect a makeover through a new pilot project called the Green Alley Initiative, likely to be completed by next spring.
Taken from examples of similar projects in Quebec, the initiative aims to increase the walkability, safety, and vibrancy of alleys that have often been neglected, underutilized, or unsafe.
Maggie Glasgow, an Alberta Avenue resident and the initiative organizer, proposed the idea. Some of her family members in Quebec had taken on their own project as part of Montreal’s ongoing, government-funded Green Alleys of Montreal.
“The alley behind my brother’s place [in Montreal] is full of kids, parents, and neighbours playing, chatting, and getting to know one another. The Ruelles Vertes program, supported by the City of Montreal, has changed the way the concrete urban space is used—from only vehicular traffic to vibrant, activated green spaces that bring communities together. We hope to see similar outcomes in our own inner-city alleys, starting with the five pilot alleys, and expanding over four years for a total of 25 to 30 Green Alleys,” says Glasgow.
Currently, the initiative is working with community groups like Arts on the Ave and the CEASE Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation. Many community members noticed the alleys behind their properties have become a choice spot for illegal activity like prostitution, often bringing aggressive johns to the area, and creating an unsafe environment for children in their own backyards. Organizers and community members hope that this grassroots initiative can deter misuse of back alleys and help bring back alley neighbours together in a common shared space.
The alleys the team wants to revitalize include 112 Ave to 113 Ave between 94 and 95 St; 114 to 115 Ave between 94 and 95 St; the northside of 118 Ave (the avenue that runs east-west) between 94 and 95 St; 119 Ave to 120 Ave between 86 and 87 Streets; and 119 to 120 Aves between 88 and 89 St.
The Green Alleys team, a passionate group of neighbours and local leaders, conducted walks to the proposed alleys. Glasgow says neighbours were surprised to see a group of people in the alley and showed a lot of interest in the project and its potential to decrease thefts and other problems in back alleys.
“People were pretty enthusiastic about getting to know one another and working on a project together,” she adds.
For Glasgow, this confirmed that back alley spaces in Alberta Avenue are not living up to their full potential.
In one location, the team saw litter, overgrowth, and even evidence of an encampment.
Glasgow says, “The alleys take on an [urban] heat island effect.” Excessive use of concrete and other heat absorbent material can cause alleys to be hotter and more unpleasant than main streets and thoroughfares for those whose properties are located adjacent to the alley.
Organizers are seeking sponsorship with the help of the University of Alberta’s Engineering Connects program.
“The Engineering Connects students have already started creating a list of potential sponsors and organizations that might be interested in helping with this pilot project. They have also been busy creating an interactive map showing the locations of the Green Alleys that will house the before and after photos of each site.”
She adds, “We would like the alleys to have bright colours throughout, with garage murals, fence paintings, bright structures (bird houses, windmills, flags, etc), and painted concrete [with easy games]. We would like to see more biodiversity in the alleys as well, which could include gardens, raised beds, and trees. We would also like to see the back alleys repaved and with more city and residential lighting as our winters are dark.”
In their efforts to get the project moving and learn more about their alleys, neighbours on Glasgow’s street have already banded together to conduct garbage clean ups and plan to do so again throughout the fall. The Green Alley Initiative team is currently working on their website as well as a safety survey they want community members to complete. The website link will be updated and included on ratcreek.org when the team’s website is complete.
Community members can make their alleys safer and more welcoming by following some of Edmonton Police Service’s tips. These include installing lights with motion sensors, getting to know your neighbours, photographing and recording serial numbers and models of property, and planting perennials in back alleys to bring beauty and shade to the area. They also encourage homeowners to post their address on their garage if it faces the back alley. This will help save time in police finding a home if there’s an emergency and will remind would-be thieves that the property belongs to someone else.
For more information, see EPS’ tips on garage security through edmontonpolice.ca (search for garage and backyard security).
Or, see examples of green alleys in Montreal and an interactive map here: bbqboy.net/the-best-green-alleys-on-the-plateau-mont-royal-2020/.