Alley Shmalley

Alleyways present an interesting dilemma in Foster-Powell.  On one hand, they’re usable, public spaces. On the other, they’re feral plots of land overtaken by weeds and blackberry bushes. While they offer access to your backyard, they also offer access to your backyard (if you know what I mean…and unfortunately many of you do). They provide parking alternatives for those with rear garages, and they present more gardening options, too. But they also attract discarded couches, broken tvs, and whoever that girl was screaming in a IMG_1250meth-fueled rage last night. Yeah, you know the one.

Still, there’s more potential there than is currently being utilized.

A while back, a group of PSU students and city planners-to-be tackled this dilemma and created a how-to guide for those wanting to take over their alleyways. And while dirt-bike escapades still give the alleys their most use, they also provide dog-walking routes, scenic romps through semi-vegetative urban decay and, now, an opportunity to get creative.

Here’s a look at one such project, located in the alley between SE 71st/72nd and SE Center/Rhone. Hopefully it provides some inspiration….









This makeshift garden improvises with old gutters framed behind an outbuilding bordering the alleyway.








The chalkboard offers a canvas for neighbors to draw on, an alternative to would-be taggers, and some art to the oft-neglected alleyway.








A rain barrel completes the alleyway garden and makes it that much more sustainable. Plus a bench for sitting, potted plants for more flare, and a raised bed.

And just like that…voila!

Has anybody else transformed their alley space? If so, how/what did you do? If not, who’s interested? The PSU group who surveyed the neighborhood put together a planning guide and toolkit for interested residents. Check it out.

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8 Responses to Alley Shmalley

  1. Ruben Medina says:

    I have not started yet but next year intent to plant mine with mostly native plants.

  2. Natalie says:

    These are all great ideas! Thanks for sharing, Jeff!

  3. Alex Reed says:

    If alleys were maintained to be passable, and future curb-cuts and front garages not allowed by the city, then we could maintain a nicer streetscape. Think about how nice Ladd’s Addition looks. Part of that, of course, is because people there have approximately a bazillion dollars to pay for home upkeep and lawn services. But part of it, also, is that there are no curb cuts, driveways, or front-side garages because they have maintained, useful alleys. (Also their utility poles are in the alley. Wouldn’t it be nice to have full-size street trees on both sides of the street?)

    On the other side of the coin, I live in a “snout house” with the garage in front and I think it’s a bad design from a neighborhood livability perspective. The garage is just so big and opaque, we really can’t provide “eyes on the street” very well, and I think it’s a bit of an obstacle to people getting to know us too.

    All of which is to say, what about neighbors getting together, putting in some cash and/or sweat equity to improve and maintain their alleys? Coming from western FoPo, I wish I had an alley and a back garage instead of a front one (if people used their alleys and kept them maintained and less scary).

  4. dsdauphin says:

    Great post Jeff. I’m one of the former PSU graduate students who worked on the Alley Allies project and I also provided guidance on the PSU undergraduate students who did the Alley7172 project you showed pictures from (more info is here:

    I wanted to comment because PSU’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions just launched a program called the Sustainable Neighborhood Initiative. They’ve committed to working with residents in Foster-Powell and other neighborhoods that are part of the FosterGreen EcoDistrict on projects such as alley improvements over the next 3-5 years. This summer they hired a graduate student to work specifically with your community on such projects. Residents who are serious about their project, should contact the ISS now and ask about the program. You can find the info here:

    Also, there are lots of alleys in Northeast Portland, and recently we met with a group of interested residents from up there and brainstormed some alley related ideas. You can share ideas and ask questions on the Portland Alley Group forum we just started here:

    If you have questions or ideas about alley projects, feel free to contact us using the email on our website (linked in Jeff’s original article).

    Kind regards,


  5. Pingback: More on Alleys | Foster-Powell. A neighborhood blog.

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