An Alley Blooms
Finally, it was an alley’s time to shine. Blue Thumb recently hosted a tour of the first Blooming Alley in Minneapolis, a green project to redesign back alleys. The tour showed that narrow back lanes separating neighbors from one another can be reinvented as places that connect people and function to protect the environment. All it takes is a little know-how, a willingness to think “outside” of the conventional alley, and the synergy of neighbors working together toward a shared goal—key ingredients in a Metro Blooms initiative called Nokomis Neighbors for Clean Water.
Restoring Lake Nokomis is the ultimate goal. The lake is classified as impaired by the MN Pollution Control Agency, or too polluted to support a healthy ecosystem. Most of that pollution is urban runoff, dirty stormwater that flows through backyards and down paved surfaces such as alleys, eventually reaching the lake. The idea behind a Blooming Alley is simple: invite neighbors on the block to re-invent their alley as a shared common space that also diverts runoff and encourages natural habitat. Think raingardens and permeable pavement, which allow stormwater to filter slowly through soil before reaching the lake, rather than running directly into storm drains.
Written by Aleli Balagtas
Come see Metro Blooms’ first Blooming Alley, and rediscover back alleys. The idea is to look beyond garbage cans and garages and envision alleys as inviting, ecological community spaces. That’s what neighbors on a block near Minneapolis’Lake Nokomis did last spring when they started planning their alley makeover as part of a project called Nokomis Neighbors for Clean Water. This is alley beautification with a green mission: to create lovely neighborhood spaces that incorporate strategies to reduce storm water runoff and promote native habitat.
Stormwater flowing through backyards, driveways and alleys is a major culprit in Lake Nokomis pollution. Metro Blooms undertook this project to partner with local groups, government and residents to reduce the problem. The key is community engagement: provide the tools—namely, expertise in landscape design and stormwater management—that allow residents to work together to find a solution, and make their community a better place to live in the process. Funding from the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, the City of Minneapolis, and Hennepin County supported the project and, over several months, Metro Blooms helped neighbors on the block design and create the first Blooming Alley.
This past Tuesday, myself, Mark Pedelty (a professor at the U of MN), and three of his students had the pleasure of learning about the history of Lake Nokomis from Steffanie Musich, President of Friends of Lake Nokomis, and Julia Vanatta
with Wild Ones. I learned more about Lake Nokomis that day than I thought there was to know, and I was intrigued so I went looking for even more information. I have to say, Lake Nokomis has a long and colorful history. If you’ve ever wondered just how and when it came to be (that’s right, it hasn’t always been a lake fit for swimming) read on and find out!
Lake Nokomis, known as Lake Amelia until 1910, was originally meant to serve as a reservoir to maintain the constant flow of water over Minnehaha Falls. The park board did not actually own the land around Lake Nokomis, Rice Lake (Lake Hiawatha), or Minnehaha Creek in the late 1800s but that didn’t stop them from making plans to deepen channels and dam the lake. Luckily, most of these plans fell through for reasons unknown today, but they were all made with the hope of maintaining a flow of water over the falls. In fact, in 1900 President Benjamin Harrison was quoted at the falls saying “Minnehaha Falls would undoubtedly be very beautiful if there was water in the stream.”