Business Owners, Community See Possibility In Phoenix Alleys
Let’s be honest – alleys do not have the world’s best reputation. The concept of a back-alley anything? Not good. We’re often hoping not to meet someone in a dark alley.
But cities across the country, and around the world, are trying to make better use of their alleys, and turn them into urban hotspots. And, in Phoenix, where some people see fear and darkness, others see possibility.
"If I could take a time-lapse video of what a normal day would look like, you would see hundreds of people actually using the alley," said Pete Salaz. "I thought, ‘wow, wouldn’t it be nice if this thing was cleaned up.'"
Salaz owns Bar Smith and the Monarch Theater in downtown Phoenix. The clubs back up onto an alley, between 1st and 2nd Streets and Washington and Adams Street.
Salaz said he and his neighbors got together, and started talking about ways to fix up the alley. In city-speak, they wanted to activate it.
One of the people they reached out to was Ryan Tempest, an architect and co-founder of the group This Could Be Phoenix.
Tempest and others have dubbed this “Phoenix Alley of the Arts.” Many of its walls are covered by murals.
There are a number of other things they’d like to do: replace the many dumpsters with a few trash compactors, even out the surface, improve the lighting, just become a place people want to check out, rather than avoid.
"A lot of times alleys are shaded, so you can really activate them to be these places where pedestrians can cut through and get away," Tempest said. "They can also be activated in ways where you’ve got businesses that are opening up their back of their storefronts to the alley and having seating."
A few miles north of Phoenix Alley of the Arts, another alley off Camelback and Central Avenue is undergoing a makeover.
"It’s an alley that was in some pretty rough shape," said Michael Hammett, Phoenix’s chief service officer. "The residents and the merchants came together and they said ‘we want to do something, we want to activate this alley.'"
Hammett helped coordinate the cleanup of this alley, with the help of nearby residents and business owners, and AmeriCorps Vista volunteers. This alley’s a little different than the one downtown, since there are homes adjacent to it, rather than just businesses.
"We’re hearing that they want it to be a gathering space, where there could be events back there, especially at night when the city vehicles aren’t coming through the alley," Hammett said.
Phoenix's planning and development department is in the process of finalizing a formal alley activation program, said Alan Stephenson, Phoenix’s planning and development director.
The initiative could come to a city council subcommittee in September. The full council should take them up and approve them later this fall.
"This is really a fine grain effort to keep some of that artistic vitality and some unique places that really are the fine grain details of downtown that help create that overall character that promotes people wanting to walk to these different areas," Stephenson said.
Stephenson said people wanting to fix up the alleys will be responsible for paying to do it. Pete Salaz said right now, the biggest investment is time and effort, but he’s ready for what’s next.
"I promised to water all the plants with Bar Smith and Monarch’s water, which we don’t mind," Salaz said. "Everyone’s going to have to give up something for civic pride."