Alley Activation Creates New Pedestrian Friendly Venues

Crowd enjoys watching World Cup in Nord Alley. Photo courtesy of SounderBruce

Crowd enjoys watching World Cup in Nord Alley. Photo courtesy of SounderBruce

Many in Seattle have been swept up in the excitement of the World Cup. The Seattle Times even ran a front page picture of several hundred soccer fans watching one of the first World Cup games in Nord Alley down in Pioneer Square several weeks ago.

The non-profit International Sustainability Institute (ISI), working in collaboration with the Alliance for Pioneer Square, expects to show 22 of the World Cup matches in Nord Alley this year. This is just the latest example of the alley activation effort that began in Pioneer Square back in 2008 when ISI’s Executive Director moved the organization into the adjoining Nord Building. The City had just removed dumpsters from Pioneer Square alleys in an effort to improve the aesthetics and safety of the alleys, and he envisioned taking it further with a more active use of the alley adjacent to the building.

The group’s efforts led to the first public Nord Alley event in October 2008, when several hundred people enjoyed an evening of food, art, and music. In 2010, the group received a grant to install metal art panels onto which other artists could then install their art. A bicycle repair shop opened in the alley, providing yet another way to activate Nord Alley.

A 2009 contest, cosponsored with SDOT, asked people what they would like to see in Nord Alley, which in turn led to the showing of a number of the 2010 World Cup soccer matches. Showings of the Tour de France followed, along with numerous musical performances and artist displays (many in conjunction with Pioneer Square’s First Thursday Art Walks).

Canton Alley in the Seattle Chinatown International District.

Canton Alley in the Seattle Chinatown International District.

The alley activation success in Pioneer Square attracted the interest of the Seattle Chinatown International District Public Development Authority (SCIpda), who had a similar vision for their own Canton Alley. While SCIpda was the main driver, the Chinatown Historic Alley Partnership (CHAP), a group of community stakeholders, was formed to guide the effort and broaden community support and involvement.

Historically, Canton Alley has served as a hub of commercial, residential, and community based activities. As part of the recent alley reactivation effort, CHAP worked closely with local property and business owners and the Business Improvement Area to implement the City’s Clear Alley Program, removing dumpsters from the right of ways.

For Canton Alley, located right next to the Wing Luke Museum, CHAP envisions street pavers running down the middle of alley, with lanterns hanging from the adjacent buildings. The community’s long term goal is to bring businesses back into the currently vacant storefronts to help draw in more foot traffic. Like its Pioneer Square neighbor, Canton Alley serves as an ideal location for established popular International District outdoor events, and has hosted numerous community events in the last three years, including Dragon Fest, Jam Fest, and alley parties.

SDOT stepped up its own support for alley activation with the 2011 SDOT Director’s Rule creating the designation of “festival streets” that permits the use of a single year-long street use permit for multiple pedestrian friendly events. Nord and Canton alleys are two of the three streets to have obtained the designation.

This pregame shot provides a good example of typical alleyway road surface issues that SDOT will address. Photo courtesy SounderBruce

This pregame shot provides a good example of typical alleyway road surface issues that SDOT will address. Photo courtesy of SounderBruce

For only $800,000-$900,000 (including both design and construction) it is expected that both alleys will be repaved in the second quarter of 2015. By this time next year, both are expected to be alive with activity, and serving as examples of how alleys can be valuable community resources and how neighborhood groups can work with SDOT and other City departments to create a more livable and vibrant community.