Downtown Seattle alleys undergoing transformations



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Posted on September 8, 2011 at 9:47 AM

Updated Thursday, Sep 8 at 1:52 PM

SEATTLE -- Sick of the crime happening in Seattle's Nord alley, neighbors decided to take action.

It took more than three years, but residents and business owners worked together. Today the alley, located off of South Main Street between First and Second Avenue in Pioneer Square, is lined with artwork. It has even become a gathering place for neighborhood events. 

Several years ago, resident Jack Bennetto would rarely step foot onto his balcony, which is right above Nord alley. There was a foul odor coming from the dumpster below. Even worse than the smell was the criminal activity going on, according to Bennetto.

"There were a lot of people that would come here to use it as a bathroom or for drugs or prostitution," said Bennetto.

Todd Vogel saw plenty of things he did not like too. About four years ago, Vogel, the Executive Director of the International Sustainability Institute, took over a space in the same building as Bennetto's apartment. 

"The first day I moved in to my office there was a crack pipe in the window of the building. But I also know that people that smoke crack and people who do unhealthy things don't want to be around people who do healthy things," said Vogel.

Vogel decided something had to change. He started by placing a $26 table he found on Craigslist in the alley. He also applied for small grants and gathered donations. Neighbors volunteered to help. Bennetto and other residents started putting plants and flowers on their balconies. The city agreed to pick up trash daily so dumpsters could be moved out of the alley. Today sculptures and paintings line the brick walls of Nord alley.

Since the renovation, hundreds have gathered in the alley for parties. A formal dinner with music and candlelight took place in the alley last month. This month, every Thursday there is an alley party, from an evening of jazz to a photo contest to an "Alley Cat" adoption event. It's all drawing more people into the alley for positive things, according to Vogel.

Thatcher Bailey with the Seattle Parks Foundation has an office near Nord alley and loves the transformation.

"I've seen it looking pretty scary and daunting. Now it feels safe and clean," said Bailey.

Lisa Dixon with the Alliance for Pioneer Square said Nord alley is sparking a trend.

"It kind of went from one, just the Nord alley and the events there, to being a network of four separate alleys which connect throughout the neighborhood. It has brought in a whole new wave of people," said Dixon.

The other renovated alleys include Jackson-King alley, Pioneer Passages alley and Firehouse alley.

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