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What does it mean to "green" your alley? Residents recently packed the Hamline Midway Coalition's conference room in April of 2011 to explore this question, share ideas, and hear from experts in water quality and horticulture. The Hamline Midway Coalition's Community Building Committee (CBC), in partnership with the Hamline Midway Environment Group (HMEG), is supporting residents who want to improve their alleys for water quality, safety, food production, and aesthetics. Residents who get their neighbors on board with a green alley vision can get organizing help and volunteer assistance on alley work days from the CBC and HMEG. Contact us for more information.
Many attendees wanted to learn more about permeable pavement options, which are being implemented in alleys by the City of Chicago (see their Green Alley Handbook) because they live on "unimproved" (unpaved) alleyways or or paved alleys that have ponding problems. "We have a glacier in our alley that turns into a lake," joked Hamline Midway resident Barron Koralesky, "Regular pavement doesn't last very long in those conditions." Permeable pavement allows water to drain through the surface into the subsoil below, reducing ponding and stormwater run off that flows untreated to nearby lakes and streams.
Forrest Kelley from the Capitol Region Watershed District offered ideas and information about watershed district grant programs that can fund water quality improvement projects such as rain gardens, rain barrels, and garage gutter redirection. He noted that permeable pavement projects have been implemented not only in Chicago, but more locally in St. Paul and in Shoreview. Residents questioned whether permeable alleys could be implemented in St. Paul. Wes Saunders-Pearce from the City of St. Paul's Water Resources Division said that the topic has come up more frequently at the City, but before alley projects like this can be implemented, questions about cost, maintenance and equipment need to be answered and a framework needs to be in place. It was clear that permeable pavement was not an immediate option, but Saunders-Pearce indicated that a framework would be in place "sooner rather than later."
A more immediate option for residents is planting edibles, natives, and ornamentals along alleyways. There was great interest in dividing and sharing plants as well as getting gardening advice from HMEG members and Ramsey County Master Gardeners. Residents recognized many benefits from this type of greening, including community building, crime prevention, and beautification. Increasing safety for children was a priority as well. Hamline Midway resident Susan Sochacki suggested painting turtles on the pavement at the ends of the alleyways to slow traffic and remind children to be cautious about car traffic.