Posted: May 6, 2013, 12:56 PM
Join Date: Mar 2008
Jane’s Walk explores city’s alleyways
(Hamilton Spectator, Molly Hayes, May 5 2013)
Anna Graca wouldn’t dream of parking in the alley behind her house.
She’s found needles there, beer bottles, even condoms. Behind the tidy homes and well-kept properties on her North-End street, prostitution and drug use are part of the landscape.
“We call it ‘Listerine Alley,’” she said, referring to the apparent drink of choice for many of the people who hang out there at night.
On Sunday, Graca joined a group of residents who toured the alleys of the Beasley area. The walk, led by Beasley Neighbourhood Association member Charlie Mattina, gave residents a chance to take a look at those alleys and discuss the problems they create and the potential they have as urban infrastructure.
Beasley stretches between the Canadian National Railway tracks just north of Barton and Main streets to the south. It is bounded by James Street to the west, Wellington to the east.
Hamilton has 98,257 alleyways, according to a review by the city in 2009.
Mattina sees a world of possibilities for these neglected, often overgrown strips. The way he sees it, alleys are like mechanical rooms.
“Mechanical rooms are the heart of the company, but they’re also the most filthy part. They’re greasy and dirty. You can hide things in a mechanical room,” he said. “They are an important resource we have that no one seems to care about.”
A quick fix is not the solution Mattina’s looking for.
“Cleanups are great but a couple of days later …” he said. “We’re looking at ways to integrate (the alleys) back into the fabric of the neighbourhood, socially or even economically.”
Across North America — especially in cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Baltimore — alleyways are being transformed into sustainable parts of the neighbourhood.
Community gardens. Bike path corridors. Footpaths.
Last July, police arrested 40 people and seized more than $8,000 in illegal drugs in a two-week sweep of crack houses and alleyways across central Hamilton.
Residents along the walk Sunday spoke casually about finding broken beer bottles, syringes, condom wrappers and even mattresses behind their houses.
Sunday’s walk was a part of the Jane’s Walk movement, an annual event in cities across the country that encourages residents to get out and walk around to get to know their neighbourhoods better.
Walk leader Mattina grew up in the North End, and is a longtime member of the Beasley Neighbourhood Association.
He’s watched the neighbourhood evolve in recent years and, as it continues to grow, he wants to make sure the old, neglected back alleys are included in the new Hamilton landscape.
Local Councillor Jason Farr said the city is working on a study of Hamilton’s alleys, which was approved by council last year.
Graca, who has lived on Mary Street for 13 years, praised her neighbourhood group for trying to tackle the crime in the alley behind her home over the past couple of years. She was excited to visit other alleys and then brainstorm ideas to fix them up.
“I want to see it asphalted, I want to see lights, maybe some vegetation,” she said.
Mostly, she just wants to feel safe.
"Where architectural imagination is absent, the case is hopeless." - Louis Sullivan