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Quality of Life

Normal Heights event to showcase alleys as potential public spaces

The city of San Diego has more than 250 miles of alleys. That’s according to a UC San Diego professor who says they could become safer, greener public spaces. KPBS reporter Katie Anastas says the community can learn how this weekend in normal heights.

For many San Diegans, alleys are places to park your car or throw out your trash.

But to Sue Peerson, an urban studies and planning professor at UC San Diego, they could be so much more.

“Alleys are an untapped resource,” she said, standing in a Normal Heights alley. “By getting community input, we want to turn this alley from a space to a place.”

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On Saturday, Peerson, her students and community partners will seek that input as part of a pop-up event in Normal Heights, where she said alleys make up 30% of the street network.

The alley south of Adams Avenue between Mansfield Street and Hawley Boulevard is the site of the Alleys in Action event planned for Saturday, May 18, 2024.
Carolyne Corelis
/
KPBS
The alley south of Adams Avenue between Mansfield Street and Hawley Boulevard is the site of the Alleys in Action event planned for Saturday, May 18, 2024.

The alley south of Adams Avenue off Mansfield Street will have interactive models, activities for kids, a gallery of urban studies students’ designs and an opportunity for attendees to share their own ideas.

“The students looked at seating, and lighting and green walls,” she said.

They also suggested more visible crosswalks, or making a two-way alley into a one-way alley with a sidewalk.

Other ideas are more cosmetic, like enclosures around dumpsters.

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“We don’t believe that cars are going to go away. Trash pickup’s not going to go away. Utilities are still going to be placed in the alley,” Peerson said.

A 3-D illustrative rendering of a one-way alley with a sidewalk by UCSD student Aada Waltari. "Day to day, the alley serves as a shortcut for Normal Heights residents and visitors to get to and from home, the park, church, and school," Waltari wrote. "The one-way street leaves enough room for pedestrians and drivers to share the road."
Courtesy of Aada Waltari/Sue Peerson
A 3-D illustrative rendering of a one-way alley with a sidewalk by UC San Diego student Aada Waltari. "Day to day, the alley serves as a shortcut for Normal Heights residents and visitors to get to and from home, the park, church, and school," Waltari wrote. "The one-way street leaves enough room for pedestrians and drivers to share the road."

Peerson held the first Alleys in Action event back in 2018. She said the pandemic made outdoor public spaces even more necessary. The city of San Diego’s Spaces as Places program allows restaurants, bars and cafes to add outdoor seating on sidewalks and in parking spots for a fee.

Scott Kessler, with the Adams Avenue Business Association, said safe public amenities are especially valuable as the neighborhood becomes more dense.

“We’re trying to see if we can put some of our land to better use for pedestrian use and not car use here, and kind of reclaim some turf that might be beneficial to the residents and the businesses,” he said.

Scott Kessler, executive director of the Adams Avenue Business Association, speaks with Sue Peerson on Wednesday, May 15, 2024.
Carolyne Corelis
/
KPBS
Scott Kessler, executive director of the Adams Avenue Business Association, speaks with Sue Peerson on Wednesday, May 15, 2024.

The first change Normal Heights residents will likely see in the alley is a mural, with the support of the building owner, Normal Heights United Church.

Community members are invited to make suggestions about the mural and other ideas for the alley from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 18.