The University of Washington student who volunteered their time to the City of Auburn under the wing of the UW’s Livable Cities program called the project, “Little Alleyway, Big Activation.”
This project would take the alleyway between the historic post office (Auburn Arts and Culture Center) and the Auburn Avenue Theater and make it a place bright with string lighting and colorfully-painted concrete. It would likewise install artwork along the abutting buildings’ exterior walls and add seating and a stage-platform.
On Monday, city leaders got their first look at preliminary renderings and liked what they were seeing – liked it a lot.
“This is something that could really bring a lot of focus to downtown. It’s a great idea,” said Councilman Claude DaCorsi.
“This looks really nice; I think it would be a lot of fun … we could have dancing back there and everything,” Councilwoman Yolanda Trout-Manuel told Jeff Tate, interim Community Development Director, as Tate launched into his first update to the council on the program and the numerous potential projects it engendered across City departments.
“It has a lot of potential,” Tate said of “Little Alleyway, Big Activation.”
Councilman John Holman noted that the City of Rochester, Minn., has similarly activated many of its alleys to increase foot traffic at night.
“As you walked down the street and you pass a dark, dank alley, it frightened people. Now, they have activated them with lighting and activity, and you want to walk around Rochester, Minn., at night because the alleyways aren’t frightening,” Holman said.
One problem: how could the project work with garbage trucks regularly rumbling down the whole length of the alley to empty all the residential and commercial Dumpsters?
With cost estimates in excess of $500,000, Tate said, City staff members have been brainstorming approaches to activate the alley space in a more cost-effective manner. Indeed, the City’s Finance Department reached out to business owners whose property abuts the alley and proposed to them relocating the Dumpsters from the alley into a single enclosure. Earlier this year, the City created a new enclosure in the parking lot behind the Arts and Culture Center, and all the Dumpsters have since been moved there..
Livable Cities forged partnerships between the UW and a city of its choice – Auburn – setting students and faculty across multiple disciplines onto challenging livability projects for an entire year. In 2016, the UW selected Auburn to be its pilot-year partner for the program in 2017.
“We had some home runs, and a couple that were not home runs,” Tate said, restricting his comments to his department’s experience only. “But on balance, I think that for the money Community Development put into these projects, we got good bang for the buck. There was a lot more we got out of those projects than we would have gotten out of the private sector.”