On April 12th, 2014 more then 35 neighbors from two blocks in the Lake Nokomis watershed got together to reimagine their alleyway. Why? How? Where? Was there food? you may be asking. To answer the most pressing question, yes, there was food. There was also creativity flowing, neighbors interacting, idea sharing, and community forming. It was a fantastic event that was made possible by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of MN and three awesome block leaders.
The Why: Lake Nokomis Neighbors for Clean Water is a project that Metro Blooms has been working on with neighborhood and local government partners to clean-up Lake Nokomis by re-inventing backyards and alleyways. Lake Nokomis is impaired, which means there’s too much pollution in it to support a healthy aquatic ecosystem. Most of that pollution comes from urban runoff, and most of THAT pollution flows through backyards and down alleyways to reach the lake. Furthermore, alleys could be such cool spaces for neighbors to interact, and they can be pretty (really!) if we can change the way we view and use them.
The How: This is where the block leaders come in. We had three amazing block leaders that took the time to talk with their neighbors, told them about the project and invited them to the Alley Get-Together (a glorified block party, in the alley of course). They used all sorts of methods from doorknocking to Facebook to doorhangers complete with native seed packets to entice their neighbors to come. And it worked! We had 26 households attend the get-together and even more that expressed interest but couldn’t make it.
At the Get-Together community members were asked to re-imagine their alleyway as a community space that provides habitat and captures runoff. Sounds a bit daunting and tricky, but they caught on pretty dang fast. During the discussion we heard ideas such as:
- Community pizza oven
- Fire pit
- Farmer’s market
- Compost piles, and the list goes on…
Neighbors also mentioned the perception of the alleyway as a dark, hidden space. Encouraging people to really utilize this space for interacting with each other will hopefully help to change that perception. After the discussion Metro Blooms’ landscape designers led residents through a creative activity to re-design their own backyard and combine those designs to create a concept for the entire alleyway. Residents also voted on their four favorite plants to create a cohesive plant palette for the alleyway. In case you’re wondering, these particular homeowners have an obsession with purple and orange plants.
The Where: The event took place in the backyard and garage of one of our block leaders, Carol. What an ideal site. Her backyard had built-in examples of stormwater management such as permeable pavement and raingardens and she was nice enough to let us use her new garage to boot!
What’s Next: Following the Get-Together we’ll be using the designs and ideas shared by the residents to create whole alley concept plans that we’ll use to promote the project to the entire community. These designs will be showcased at the Lake Nokomis Rec Center on June 4th from 4-6pm so stop by and check them out! In addition, neighbors that want to move forward with the project are receiving site consultations and designs for their backyards with the goal of having 10 installations on one alleyway complete by the end of the summer. Talk about a cool demonstration project!
I’m bias, but for me (and hopefully everyone else!) the Alley Get-Together was such a fun event. I saw so many neighbors interacting with each other and being thoughtful about their backyards and alleyways and what they really want from that space. In the future, we hope to do many more of these Get-Togethers and oodles more alleyway installation projects…maybe your block will be one of them!
For more pictures of the Get-Together, visit our Facebook page