Although alley clean up isn't glamorous, we feel pretty sure that some of you have engaged in this activity. Sooner or later, most community activists who live where there are alleys begin to feel that either the weeds or the rats or the graffiti or the loitering are just too much to take.
So it's common to organize the neighbors, sometimes every spring, to undertake this activity. This is particularly important if the solid waste collection occurs from the alley, as it's likely that there are a few spills now and then.
If people enter garages from the alley, the clean ups also can prevent the nail in the tire situation and make it generally easier for drivers to see around obstacles such as those random sunflowers or the dumpster at a rakish angle.
Some places have become more inventive. If the alley doesn't have a functional use, sometimes they've been converted to communal green space.
Sometimes, as famously is occurring in Chicago, the alley becomes "green" in the sense of being redone with more environmentally friendly paving (in the form of permeable asphalt or porous concrete) or lighting.
In commercial areas, alley clean up needs to become a regular activity of merchants, landlords, the city, or a business improvement district.
1. Invite everyone to participate, but especially make sure that any kids on the block feel valued and appreciated.
2. Have water on hand, if it's a warm day, or coffee for a cold one. A little snack for afterward or even a barbecue in someone's backyard makes the event more festive and leaves everyone a little happier about the hard work.
3. One variation would be to stage your cleanup day on one Saturday and then have a group garage sale or alley sale on the following weekend. It gives people an incentive to think further about the alley as a potential semi-public space that's worth keeping clean.
4. Use the activity as an opportunity to discuss problems or unrealized opportunities you see for your neighborhood. If you need a neighborhood crime watch, it would be a good time to organize one. Often if your neighborhood is sensitive to crime, people want to ignore the alley and tend to view it as a negative space rather than a potential asset.
5. Sometimes the sweeping, weeding, and straightening needs to go a little further and extend to maintaining or painting backyard fences, garage doors, or maintenance sheds that front on the alley. Why not use the day to either encourage neighbors to make these investments in their properties or to help one another with these pesky projects?
6. If you need a block group or even a new neighborhood association, sprucing up the alley can start that conversation. Almost every place that is urban enough to have an alley needs a formal organization. (We have a page and e-book about starting a neighborhood association.)
7. There's no need to make lawn maintenance and elaborate gardens such a competitive spiral that people really don't enjoy their back yards. A little friendly keeping up with the Joneses is good for the neighborhood, but once it begins to become even a little bit serious, it could be time for someone who is a natural leader to call a halt.
Below is a form where you can share your ordinary and extraordinary before and after photos, or your stories of what alley clean up did or didn't do for your block or the neighborhood. If we accept your story, which we will if it is understandable to others, it will be published as a web page that you can use in social media or publicity for your neighborhood. You can remain anonymous if you like.
Have you done an alley clean up, or even converted your alley to a different use? Tell us how you assembled the crew, what you did, and your best alley clean up tips. Why did you do the project--safety, appearance, cleanliness, or other? Would you do it again? What advice can you offer?
If you have "before" and "after" photos, or either one, our visitors would like to see them.
Click below to see contributions from others.