Green alley design and development

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If you want to turn your alley into a green alley, use our experience to help guide you.

  1. Team up. We started with at least 2 businesses (Green Garage and Motor City Brewing Works) on the alley wanting to work together to transform the alley, and we eventually sought out all other neighbors to explain the idea and seek their cooperation.
  2. Learn about the natural systems currently affecting the alley. We began by observing where the sun fell on the alley throughout the day and throughout the year, where the rain went, what type of winds the alley dealt with, and how surrounding buildings affected these elements.
    1. We studied yearly precipitation charts for Detroit.
    2. We made a video recording of how water flowed in the alley after a rainstorm.
    3. We took photos of the alley at different times of the day and throughout the seasons to see how the sun fell.
    4. We observed and charted wind tunnels in the alley.
    5. We observed and took note of any plants that grew naturally in the alley.
    6. We observed the alley at night.
  3. Do research.
    1. Study what other communities have done with their alleys (see our background research page)
    2. Look at materials, how you'll be dealing with your garbage and recycling, how you'll be lighting the alley, and how you want to keep it pedestrian-friendly (we did research on bollards).
  4. Determine what 'green' features are important to your project (see our page sustainable design features.
  5. Make sure you bring in the City Engineering Department of the City of Detroit early on. They are responsible for alley construction and deconstruction, so they will need to approve of your plans.
    1. You will be asked whether or not you want to privatize the alley or keep it public. We chose to keep it public.
  6. Hire good designers and architects who understand your perspective. We hired Woody Melcher of Woodbury Design Group to draw up a sketch of the alley, and Mike McCleer did the architectural drawings.
  7. Before any construction takes place, take care of any leaks to your water main and sewer. The city's water department worked on leaks to our water main and Inland Waters Pollution repaired our sewer. The benefits are twofold: you won't be wasting water unnecessarily and you won't end up with sink holes that will need repair after the alley is completed.
  8. Do a good foundation design. Under our historic pavers, concrete and permeable pavers we have layers of sand, crushed stone bedding and open grade stone. We found that we needed 2 companies to do this foundation work: Redford Cement took care of the deconstruction, the digging and laying down new soil and cement. Classic Landscape lay down the stones and sand, and did the brick work. They also put in the permeable pavers.
  9. Add a month to your plans for this foundation work. We planned on planting the alley in early June but it was not until early July that the plants got into the ground. The delays were caused by the extent of repairs to the water main and sewer (you never know how extensive the leaks are until you are down there) and by the dance of 2 companies working with each other (Redford Cement and Classic Landscape) to get the foundation laid. It's important to understand this because we ended up with plants that were somewhat root-bound because the grower (Wildtype Native Plant Nursery) had to hold onto them for another month.
  10. When planting, organize your planting system. We had all plants labeled and had a system where some people laid the plants where they were to be planted out on the beds and others planted. Make sure you identify the plants once in the ground (we used popsicle sticks) because they are usually pretty small.
  11. For the first couple of weeks, you'll need to water frequently (especially when planting in the hot summer), and then water as needed. We watered the first couple of weeks every other day, then moved to 3x per week.