A transformation reveals the potential of Los Angeles back streets
The city of Los Angeles has over 900 linear miles of lanes, widely used for exits, parking, and garbage collection. At the Bradley Plaza Green Alley in Pacoima, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, an environmental justice group Pacoima Belle revealed the hitherto untapped potential of this often overlooked resource.
Designed by a global engineering company Arup and funded by LA Sanitation & Environment, the project transformed a 770-foot-long alleyway from a polluted and flash-flood prone corridor into an art-filled community center accessible to ADA.
Like many neighborhoods in LA, Pacoima is overcrowded and lacks parks, with schools and housing abutting heavy industry. This alley, sandwiched between a lively shopping district and a social housing estate, had become a danger for pedestrians and children, who used it as an ad hoc recreation area.
“This project is the first step in reversing a narrative of Pacoima as a place of industry and [recasting it] as a place for families, ”says Vanessa Thompson, civil and environmental engineer at the local Arup office, who grew up one mile from Bradley Plaza Green Alley.
Below the driveway, a new network of infiltration trenches and dry wells manages rainwater, while on the surface, the landscape architects Studios Rios Clementi Hale introduced over 1,300 native plants, including sagebrush and yucca. In addition to providing shade and much-needed greenery, the plantings help filter runoff before replenishing the underground aquifer.
Extensive community outreach has defined this project, including the contribution of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, a Native American tribe with its sovereign seat in Los Angeles County. A desire among local residents for a flexible and inviting common space, for example, has led to shade awnings, seating and play areas. Continuing Pacoima’s rich heritage of public art, the pavement is covered with a wave-shaped arroyo pattern, which helps reflect sunlight and mitigate the urban heat island effect.
“In the past, people viewed places like Pacoima as a dumping ground and their inhabitants as disposable waste,” says Thompson. “Giving residents a voice and asking them to help imagine their future brings back a sense of humanity. “
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