Green alley designation

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Green alley designations are environmentally-conscious governmental commitments to improve older, underutilized alleyways by incorporating green infrastructure techniques, better managing resources and improving the built environment. Green alley designations address issues often associated with traditional alley right-of-ways, including impermeable surfaces, storm water management, and heat reduction. Green alleys use sustainable materials, pervious pavements, and effective drainage to create an inviting public space for people to walk, play, and interact[1]. Some of the features most common in a green alley include permeable pavement, bioswales, planter boxes, benches, flora and fauna, and tree canopy cover. Green alley designations also provide pedestrian and bicycle right-of-ways, which increases safety conditions for users and promote alternative modes of transportation. The most famous green alley program is being completed by the city of Chicago. The Chicago Department of Transportation has developed a Green Alley Handbook[[1]], which provides a detailed guide on how to implement green alleys to create a more sustainable environment.



Listed below are a compilation of applicable goals for green alley designations, but will vary on a case-by-case basis depending on budget, location, depth, and scale. The available goals are separated into two categories: transportation and environmental.

  • Environmental:
    • Goal: Reduce urban heat island effect
    • Goal: Reduce rate and quantity of stormwater runoff
    • Goal: Recharge groundwater using pervious surfaces
    • Goal: Decrease localized flooding to prevent roadway deterioration

The City has thousands of acres of paved, impermeable surface in alleys that constantly flood after a storm. Flooding is a common problem throughout the city due to the fact that many alleys were built without a connection to the City’s combined sewer and stormwater system. The City has noticed that the alleyways are not often used as pedestrian rights-of-way, due to these flooding and inherent safety issues. Over the course of time, local residents have made complaints about the alleys to the City Council, Planning Commission, and Department of Transportation. Residents have requested better and safer access in the alleys to increase both walkability and reduce stormwater runoff in the City. The community stakeholders form a committee and discuss options on how to institute a program to implement green alleys throughout the City. Members of the committee work closely with the Department of Transportation, who not only have the funding requirements, but will oversee the green alleys program. After much deliberation, the community and the Department of Transportation start to implement their ideas and create a green alley. The first alley features permeable street pavers along the pathway to reintroduce groundwater, trees and other native species line the alley to reintegrate nature, and designated bio-retention areas are installed to alleviate excess flood water. The alley also features designated bike/pedestrian lanes and infrastructure features like lighting and benches to increase safety measures for community members. In the end, the first green alley project is considered a success and there are plans to carry out the project throughout various alleys in the City.


Tradeoffs of implementing green alleys may include:

  1. Increase in maintenance to retain longevity
  2. Increase of congestion on pathways and bike lanes
  3. Conflicts with building structures and other infrastructure (i.e building foundation)
  4. Increase in funding requirements to design, implement and maintain alleyways
  5. Increase in nearby property values may result in the displacement of lower socio-economic residents
Compatibility Assessment

If answered yes, the following questions indicate superior conditions under which the green alley designation policy is more likely to be appropriate:

  1. Is there a public or private demand for implementing green alleys?
  2. Do all members of the community have equitable access to the alleys?
  3. Is the alley deteriorating and aesthetically unappealing?
  4. Is there increased flooding or stormwater runoff after a storm?
  5. Do residents feel safe walking down the alley? Are there currently high levels of crime in the alley?
  6. Does the community want to increase walking and biking infrastructure?

The following questions should be considered when determining how to implement green alleys:

  1. Why does the community want a green alley? Is it for safety, aesthetics, sustainability, or multi-modality?
  2. Who is the green alley being designed for? Does it allow access for all people (i.e disabled, elderly, children)?
  3. Can multiple green alleys become a comprehensive and connected network?
  4. Will the green alley cause displacement for a certain demographic of a community?
  5. Who will provide funding for the project (i.e public, private, or non-profit sector)?
  6. Who will maintain and operate the site after the project is complete?
  7. How will green alleys complement the existing community and built environment?



Notable entities who have implemented or adopted this policy include:




  • Wolch, Jennifer R., Byrne, Jason, & Newell, Joshua P. (2014). Urban green space, public health, and environmental justice: The challenge of making cities ‘just green enough’. Landscape and Urban Planning, 125, 234–244. [24] The article discusses the benefits of urban green space but shows that green spaces disproportionally benefit certain groups, which raises an environmental justice issue.
  • Newell, Joshua P., Seymour, Mona, Yee, Thomas, Renteria, Jennifer, Longcore, Travis, Wolch, Jennifer R., & Shishkovsky, Anne. (2012). Green Alley Programs: Planning for a sustainable urban infrastructure?. Cities: The International Journal of Urban Policy and Planning. Cities, 31, 144–155. [25] The article analyzes green alleys in seven cities in the United States. The objective is to determine if a larger commitment to sustainability can be achieved in green alley programs.
  • Wolch, Jennifer, et al. “The forgotten and the future: reclaiming back alleys for a sustainable city.” Environment and planning. A 42.12 (2010): 2874. (p.2881)[26] The article discusses the distribution, physical features, activity patterns, and resident perceptions of alleys in Los Angeles.
  • Seymour, M., Bradbury, H., Wolch, J., and Reynolds, K.D. (2009). Resident perceptions of urban alleys and alley greening. Applied Geography. 30 (3), 380-392. [27] This articles discusses the perceptions of residents in low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods that live near alleys, how they use the space, and what would happen if the spaces became green alleys.
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