June 23, 2021
A Transformation in Pacoima, Los Angeles, Reveals the Potential of the City’s Overlooked Alleys
Led by a group of local organizations and designers, the project replaces a previously hazardous alley with play areas, public art, and native plantings.
The city of Los Angeles has more than 900 linear miles of alleys, used largely for egress, parking, and trash collection. At the Bradley Plaza Green Alley in Pacoima, one of the oldest neighborhoods in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, environmental justice group Pacoima Beautiful and the Trust for Public Land have revealed the previously untapped potential of this oft-overlooked resource.
Designed by global engineering firm Arup and funded by L.A. Sanitation & Environment, the project has transformed a 770-foot-long alley from a polluted and flash flood–prone corridor into an art-filled, ADA-accessible community hub.
Like many L.A. neighborhoods, Pacoima is overcrowded and park-poor, with heavy industry abutting schools and housing. This alley, sandwiched between a busy commercial district and a subsidized housing development, had become a hazard for pedestrians and children, who were using it as ad hoc recreation space.
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“This project is the first step in reversing a narrative of Pacoima as a place for industry and [recasting it] as a place for families,” says Vanessa Thompson, a civil and environmental engineer at Arup’s local office, who grew up one mile from the Bradley Plaza Green Alley.
Below the alley, a new network of infiltration trenches and dry wells manages stormwater, while on the surface, landscape architects RIOS introduced more than 1,300 native plants, including sagebrush and yucca. Besides providing shade and much-needed greenery, the plantings help filter runoff before replenishing the groundwater aquifer.
Extensive community outreach defined this project, including input from the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, a Native American tribe whose sovereign seat lies within Los Angeles County. A desire among local residents for flexible and inviting communal space, for example, led to shade canopies, seating, and play areas. Continuing Pacoima’s rich legacy of public art, the pavement is coated in a wavelike arroyo pattern, which helps reflect sunlight and mitigate the urban heat island effect.
“In the past, people have seen places like Pacoima as a dumping ground and their people as disposable,” says Thompson. “Giving residents a voice and asking them to help envision their future brings back a sense of humanity.”
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