Late last year, I saw something really cool while on a trip to Seattle:
Ok, I’ll admit it… I’m either a little strange or a bit nerdy (maybe both) to classify an alleyway as something "really cool" that deserves to be photographed while on vacation. But as someone who loves design, architecture, and urban planning, I couldn’t help but notice some really fascinating and innovative design elements:
- A durable concrete road surface
- Landscaping lining the alleyway
- Windows and balconies overlooking the alley
- Overhead lighting
Stop for a minute and think about the alleyways we have here in Escondido. There are more of them than you may realize — not only is Grand Avenue flanked by alleyways, but they are prevalent throughout Old Escondido and adjoining neighborhoods. Do they look like this? Not exactly. Most Escondido alleyways have:
- Very old asphalt surfaces, most of which are crumbling (some were never even paved to begin with)
- Little or no landscaping
- No windows or other views onto the alleyways
- Virtually no overhead or street lights of any kind
We tend to forget and disregard alleyways in predominantly suburban areas like North San Diego County. But the fact is, we ought to start paying more attention to them, especially here in Escondido. Imagine for a moment if our alleyways instead rivaled the one I saw in Seattle. Rehabilitating our alleys in this fashion could yield tremendous benefits for Downtown Escondido, including:
Regardless of actual crime statistics, our Escondido alleyways feel like undesirable places where you’re more likely to be attacked or robbed at night. In Seattle, the addition of overhead lamps and windows overlooking the alley turn it into a focal point. With more light and eyes on the corridor, suddenly an alleyway doesn’t feel so threatening anymore.
Making life easier for pedestrians and bike riders
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about making Escondido’s roadways a better place for walkers and bikers. In the city’s urban core, improved concrete alleyways free of potholes could serve as ideal avenues for pedestrians and bicyclists. Not only are the alleys relatively free of automobiles, but there simply isn’t much room left on Grand and many other nearby streets to add bike lanes and wider sidewalks. That makes the alleyway a much more attractive option for turning Escondido into a community that values people just as much as cars.
Solving downtown’s parking "problem"
Everyone loves the charm of Grand Avenue. All the store entrances are located there so, naturally, people want to park right "in front" of their desired destination.
Yet where are most of the parking spaces located? Not on Grand. Instead, they are on the numerous city parking lots that surround Grand with access from Second Avenue and Valley Parkway.
The problem today is two-fold — when you park in one of those surrounding lots, you first have to cross the "dark scary alleyway," then you have to try and go in the rear entrance of your desired business, which is usually locked and uninviting. This forces people to want to park in the limited-availability parallel spots on Grand, thus reinforcing the perception that our downtown has a parking problem.
We need to face facts: Most of us in Escondido love the suburban convenience of parking right in front of a store in a strip mall, and that behavior is unlikely to change. Our downtown should consider embracing this fact rather than fighting it.
I believe we all need to collectively rethink what constitutes the "front" of a downtown business. If the city could upgrade the alleyways to make them more safe and inviting, and if the adjoining business owners could do the same for their rear entrances (open doors and lush rear patios would be awesome), the results could be amazing. No doubt, customers would be more encouraged to shop downtown because they’d have the same front-row convenience of parking at a strip mall no matter where they choose to park.
Now, it’s your turn. What are your thoughts on the Seattle alleyway pictured above? Would you support it if the City of Escondido spent resources to give our alleyways similar upgrades? Chime in with your comments below:
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