“Abandon All Standards, Ye Who Enter Here,” is the message that should precede Philadelphia’s alleyways, according to Center City blogger William West. In a Center City Residents’ Association (CCRA) newsletter, West described the alleyways as an “inartful jumble of architectural afterthoughts.”
Of the alleyways in question, Waverly Street (which sits in between Addison and Pine Streets) was the target of West’s wrath when he described as a “mess”. However, in his opinion, it was not the worst cases that should be tackled first. Rather, he suggests we select those in the middle ground and make them an example of what could persuade others to follow suit.
West employed a grading system to quantify his observations, giving alleyways a grade from A to F. ‘A’ rated alleys were deemed actually attractive, while, down the scale, an ‘F’ was for functional with “no redeeming qualities.”
Subsequently, Moravian Street was selected as the best middle-ground contender. Moravian was also appropriate due to its location—it is situated between two of the most popular retail blocks in the city.
Cue Shift_Design. Thanks to CCRA board member Andy Nicolini, a few Moravian Street residents, and a few other small businesses including Shake Shack, development on the average alley is underway. Shift_Design has worked with Shake Shack before and proposed numerous simple green installations, most of which involve clusters of planting and small flower beds being attached to the once-grimy walls.
These simple green plantings with shrubbery and bushes create a sense of place, while murals integrated with green walls, hanging lights and bird boxes round out the design. Now, one can easily imagine this as a place that has grown over time, not just an alleyway with some plants hastily chucked in.
Transforming an alley into a passage that can evoke feelings of topophilia is no mean feat. Shift_Design however, broke the journey into six separate zones to break up what could potentially be monotonous passage of green (not that this wouldn’t be a drastic improvement). Zones are color-coded with these colors being painted on the road surface. Each zone also has a distinct theme. Zones One and Six focus on encouraging pedestrians in from the street; Zone Two places precedent on the mural; Zone Three is about the flora and fauna; Zone Four features chain trellising with lighting and an outdoor movie theater; and Zone Five focuses on hanging planters.
Founder and CEO of Shift_Design, Mario Gentile said that the murals will involve the Mural Arts Program. Elements like the hanging lights were a feature before the alley fell into disrepair.
Subtle lighting installations will also radically transform the space, especially at night. What was once an area to avoid during such hours now has the potential to be a place of genuine attraction, be it a romantic stroll or just a pleasant detour from the streets.
Gentile explained that the future of the space was also considered, there will be a year-long maintenance service and evergreen plants were chosen so the alley stays attractive during the winter.
Furthermore, Gentile added that the dumpsters on display violated city codes that weren’t being enforced, something Shift_Design and the city authorities plan to crack down on.
Moravian Street now however, isn’t the only alley that is set for a face-lift. Groundswell Design Group, who has a strong place making track record in Philadelphia, has proposed a similar overhaul of Pearl Street.
The outlook for Philly’s alleyways, for now, seems promising. In almost Obama-esque fashion, it appears West was correct in when he said, “Progress is possible folks.”