Could restored alleys bring neighbors closer together?

While alleys are often forgotten spaces in the urban environment, they hold great potential for improving traffic flow, enhancing access to public services, and advancing the overall aesthetic of a place.

Just ask residents of the 46807 zip code in Fort Wayne.

A recent redevelopment project through the City of Fort Wayne has made one alleyway in the '07 area functional again, utilizing historic brick instead of new pavement.

An alley in Historic South Wayne neighborhood between Kinnaird and Wildwood Avenues—bounded by Beaver Avenue and Indiana Avenue—was recently reconstructed as one of several projects approved by City Council this year.

Now, neighbors in the nearby Williams Woodland Park neighborhood are rallying around its success, with hopes that it will inspire more projects of similar nature on their streets, says Lyndsay Sheets, treasurer of Williams Woodland Park.

Both Historic South Wayne and Williams Woodland Park neighborhood associations are members of the Packard Area Planning Alliance, also known as PAPA. This group came out of a government-sanctioned community development plan created in 2003.

Many brick alleys in PAPA's district are in disrepair, explains Sheets, who also serves as secretary of the group. This means residents are avoiding using the alleys, creating more congestion on the main streets in the form of parked cars.

As a result, Sheets and others are pushing for additional alley repairs across PAPA's historic neighborhoods. One place, in particular, that they have their eye on is an alley in Williams Woodland Park that runs north to south between West Suttenfield, West Taber Street, Webster, and Harrison Street.

Sheets believes that repairing alleys like this one could have far-reaching effects in improving the area's access to public services and overall safety.

“The garbage collectors can see all the bins in the streets and perhaps collect them all in one day,” she says. “We can eliminate the damage to our vehicles from a speeding passerby and vandalism from nighttime visitors looking for something of value in our unattended vehicles."

Many PAPA area alleys, like this one in the Williams Woodland Park area, are in disrepair.

But finding the support to get a historic alleyway repaired is no easy task. Stakeholders like Nathan Hubartt learned that firsthand in their successful efforts to get the South Wayne Neighborhood alley in good shape.

Originally from the Leo area, Hubartt and his wife purchased a home in the Historic South Wayne neighborhood about nine years ago. In January 2018, he assumed the role of neighborhood association president and began his due diligence about ways to enhance the area.

“I started meeting with past presidents to understand what kind of things to be on the lookout for,” he explains. “One of them recommended that I really pay attention to public works projects that the city was soon to be announcing. After doing some research, I found out that the city had a map of our alleys and how they rated each one. Pretty much all of the alleys in our neighborhood were in poor condition.”

With this in mind, Hubartt was diligent in working with the city to make the repairs happen. He says the end result has changed the value he attributes to alleys, in general.

For example, alleys have often had a bad connotation as being unsafe or unsightly, but they can be equal parts utilitarian and social assets, providing greater connectivity to an area for cars, bikes, and pedestrians alike.

Even if alleys are home to garages, trash cans, and utilities, enhancing them improves other parts of the neighborhood, too.

“This means we can enjoy our front porches, yards, and stoops and have those be more pleasant places to be,” he says.

Historic preservation is a key part of alleyway advancements in the 46807 area.

Along with utility and aesthetics, historic preservation is a key part of alley repairs in the historic PAPA area.

Sheets says the plan to repair alleys in Williams Woodland Park is significant because it calls for an intentional approach to redevelopment—one that keeps historic preservation in mind.

“It's very important to us because one of the major points and components of that plan is to preserve our architecture where we can, and that includes not only homes, but streets and alleys as well,” she says.

PAPA has discovered that there is historic brick below many '07 area streets, including Fairfield Avenue, that could potentially be used in future alley repair projects. Now, it's a matter of getting the city's support to make it happen. Sheets and others with PAPA would like to see the city create a task force with leaders from affected neighborhoods to ensure that progress on repairing alleyways continues effectively and transparently.

To raise awareness about the benefits of a beautifully restored alley, Hubartt plans to partner with the nonprofit group ARCH for a home tour in 2020 and feature the revitalized alley as an asset.

In the meantime, you can follow neighborhood updates on their respective Facebook pages, Historic South Wayne Neighborhood Association and Williams Woodland Park.

Want to support alleyway repairs in the PAPA area?

PAPA area residents who want to support alley repairs can contact their district City Councilman or at-large Councilmen, asking them to support the formation of a citizen's committee to provide input on the process. Neighbors can also make small efforts like cleaning and landscaping the areas around alleys to show that the space is important, Sheets says.

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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