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Residents hope to improve weedy NoPo alley

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If you walk down the Beech-Failing alley in North Portland’s Boise neighborhood, you’re not likely to be very impressed. Overgrown weeds line the 400 feet of unpaved, pothole-filled dirt. But some residents dream that in a year the alley will be transformed into the center of a budding cultural district in North Portland.

Melinda Matson has been living near the Beech-Failing alley for 10 years, and has seen it impacted by construction and demolitions in the neighborhood. In January, Matson and a group of neighbors began researching what it would take to redesign the alley into a community space. By March, she had support from the mayor’s office. Now the project organizers are attempting to crowdfund $10,000 to kickstart the alley’s redesign, which is expected to cost nearly $300,000 to complete.

“It’s good for wildlife, and it’s good for rivers, and it’s good for kids — it’s good for people in general,” Matson says. “And in our case, since our alley is mixed use, it’s also good for the economy.”

Matson hopes the redesign will include paving of the alley and the addition of park benches, managed stormwater and bike racks that encourage sharing of the roadway. It’s a stark contrast from the alley’s current state.

Derek Dauphin, an associate planner at the city of Portland, helped create the Alley Allies project while he was a graduate student at Portland State University. The website created by the project includes a toolkit that residents can use to improve their local alleys. The toolkit includes a range of different types of alley improvements, from creating a pedestrian- and bicycle-oriented alley to creating a destination alley for food carts and other businesses.

Dauphin’s toolkit has been used by San Francisco’s Green Alleys Project. Dauphin says that improving alleys can have a significant impact on communities.

“Having another community open space like that where, potentially, residents are willing to do the improvements and maintenance themselves, is a big deal,” Dauphin says.

In the past, Dauphin says dealing with the Portland Bureau of Transportation and the costs of these projects has deterred neighbors from starting them.

“There’s plenty of alleys in Northeast Portland where people can’t afford to just spend a couple thousand dollars,” Dauphin says.

Matson says she hopes that her project also can spark policy changes that will lead to alley improvements being more accessible for neighborhoods.

“We’re also pushing for city policy to effectively aid civic engagement, developing parklike corridors on neglected residential alleys or unimproved streets,” Matson says. “This would affect the livability of Portland’s (neighborhoods) by facilitating community amenities such as parklets on otherwise neglected infrastructure, outside the back doors of working-class homes.”

Cash raised by the project will be used to hire a professional grant writer to apply for federal and state grants for the construction of the alley, outreach for the project, and a professional survey of the alley.

Crowdfunding efforts will end July 15.

Matson says after the crowdfunding concludes, they will immediately begin grant-writing efforts.

She hopes that groundbreaking on the alley will happen in early 2017.

“Our project’s success would affect the future character of the North Williams district,” Matson says. “It’s an exceptionally unique opportunity for something like this anywhere in Portland.”