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Human-Centered Alley Spaces

Design Thinking for an Underutilized Space - Research, Design & Program Development for City Alleyways

Challenge

Challenge

Alleys amount to over 217,500 square feet of underutilized space in Seattle's dense downtown. By re-imaging how an alley space can service new users the city would stand to gain fifty percent increase in public space. Our challenge was to understand the existing services alleys provide, how they are used, and how they are perceived, and design new ways in which the city could activate this untapped resource. 

Clients & Collaborators
Pioneer Square Alliance, Seattle Department of Planning, Gehl Architects, University of Washington, Framework & Alley Network Project

Research & Analysis

Research & Analysis

Initial discovery included a physical inventory and field observation of 200 alleys, contextual interviews with alley users, and time lapse photo analysis of behavior over time in key alleys. This insight was then used to direct stakeholder interviews with city staff in multiple US cities,  as well as international experts.

Insights from these efforts were synthesized into a journey map, infographics, and an "alley handbook". These were shared in a series of in-alley workshops with stakeholders, local business owners and the general public to review insights, refine opportunities, and discuss possible solutions.

Methods
Landscape assessment of alley services & city policies | Field observations & physical Inventory | Stakeholder interviews, including local city leaders and international experts | Community workshops in the alley | Alley journey map showing existing uses and opportunities | Prototype & evaluation of two new concepts
 

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Testing Concept Models

Testing Concept Models

Using insight from discover research, we facilitated a cross-functional group of stakeholders through a series of design exercises, resulting in numerous human-priority design concepts for alleys. Two of these concepts were prototyped and tested within a dedicated alley space. 

How can we activate alleys as gathering spaces for diverse community?
The first prototype, World Cup Alley, was a month long test engaging the community through screenings of the World Cup. This concept tested how the community might engage with the alley and each other at different times of day and week. It also tested repeat alley use across different audiences and longevity of interaction.

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  How can we get people to actively participate in a new use of an alley?  The second prototype, Palindrome Alley Art, aimed to evaluate the feasibility of alleys as venues for short term participatory events. Impact was measured through intercept interviews, alley "feedback boards", traffic counts, and social media monitoring.

How can we get people to actively participate in a new use of an alley?
The second prototype, Palindrome Alley Art, aimed to evaluate the feasibility of alleys as venues for short term participatory events. Impact was measured through intercept interviews, alley "feedback boards", traffic counts, and social media monitoring.

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Outcomes

Outcomes

The comprehensive alley use study and testing of ideas resulted in significant impacts on Seattle's alley network and policy, including:

+ Aiding in development of a non-profit organization, Alley Network project, focused on increasing programming and funding for human-centered alley projects. Program Received a 2016 HUD innovation award

+ New city policies, including a new system for trash pickup, new permitting process, and alley naming program

+ New small businesses opening up in the alley spaces, providing economic growth opportunities for the neighborhood

+ An international network of city leaders focused on improving alleys across their city and sharing best practices

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World Cup photos by Joe Iano