Parents always said that nothing good ever comes from an alley — which is probably why so many people are drawn to them. Having never outgrown our adolescent rebelliousness, Kent is out to prove parents wrong by putting Alley 4 in downtown Kent on the map as a place worthy of walking to.
Admittedly, alleys were born as a way to get trash, utilities, and even dirty laundry out of sight for businesses and residences on Main Street USA but life as an alley has changed in the last decade as more and more businesses have gone away from only worrying about their front door — to seeing the opportunities available through their back door.
Consumers are a fickle bunch and I’d guess that after years of being barraged by pre-packaged front door merchandising and swarming sales staff, the prospect of sneaking in the back door, psychologically at least, offers a sense of relief and maybe resonates with our non-conformist side that favors being surprised by the unexpected waiting in dark alleys guarding the back doors.
Setting the sociological drama aside, alleys are indeed hot spots right now for shoppers and diners, and the business community is pushing cities to help them tap into that moving market preference.
We’re happy to oblige, but like most make-overs, it takes some work to get there. The challenge is that people are interested in back-door access and while they like the artsy, shadowy surreal sensibility that remade alleys can offer, they still don’t want to see trash cans, utility wires, electric boxes and all the other grunge that was typical of the old alleys.
To give them what they want requires getting creative with utility relocations and adaptive reuse of fairly limited space. It’s hard but not impossible which is what the City is hoping to demonstrate as we start rediscovering Alley 4 (behind the south side of the Main Street block in downtown Kent) beginning on May 31st.
Visitors come to Kent because Kent keeps it real — but even reality has it’s limits, and while the homogenization of front door curb appeal has diminished its impact, back door authenticity still has to feel safe enough for the less adventurous to be willing to meander down.
I’ve been in cities where alleys were preferred by the alterntive crowd, and even mainstreamers who may not live life on the periphery but they at least want a taste of it from time to time, and alley dive bars and restaurants are just what the existentialist ordered.
I’m told that Cleveland has a great example of that in the East 4th neighborhood. Funky neon signs and string lights overhang alleys in a way that suggests the presence of some forbidden underground subculture. Very cool.
Kent’s not as polished as East 4th but it’s got a similarly cool vibe and we hope that our Alley 4 project will show that off. Here’s an update from the City Engineer’s Office for the status of the Alley 4 project:
City of Kent
Alley No. 4 Reconstruction
(Behind Acorn Alley)
BEGINNING on May 31, 2011
The City of Kent will begin a project to reconstruct Alley No. 4 from S. Water Street to S. Depeyster Street. The work includes construction of an underground utility duct bank for the relocation of overhead electric, telephone and cable lines. The duct bank will be constructed on the north side of Erie St. between S. Water Street and S. Depeyster Street, on the west side of Depeyster Street from Alley No. 5 to Alley No. 3 and within the entire length of Alley No. 4. New utility services will also be constructed. A portion of the existing storm sewer under Alley No. 4 will be replaced, new light poles will be installed in Alley No. 4 and the existing asphalt pavement in Alley No. 4 will be removed and replaced with concrete.
Temporary lane closures on Erie Street and Depeyster Street are expected to occur during utility work and vehicular access on Alley No. 4 will be limited to local traffic only. The project is scheduled for completion by October 27, 2011.
Questions regarding the project may be directed to Jon Giaquinto, Senior Engineer, by phone at (330) 678-8106, or to the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A link to the project can be found on the City of Kent website at http://kentohio.org/private/Alley4.asp.
City of Kent, Ohio