Alley Activation in Downtown Denver

Alley Activation in Downtown Denver
Activated Alleys
Photo courtesy of JC Buck

Alley Activation?  Wait…what?  Alley Activation is the newest thing to happen to Downtown Denver.  In a nutshell, activating an alley means developing and making it an attractive part of the city.  Think about walking down an alley without that suspicious puddle or weird smell invading your senses; instead a pretty pathway and perhaps a few planters will be a welcome sight (and smell). We generally avoid alleys because they’re stinky, wet, and usually full of interesting (and occasionally unpleasant) discoveries. For a city that is growing and changing, we’re going to run out of surface space at some point in the near future, so activating the alleys and making them a part of the regular pedestrian thoroughfare is genius.

The first installment of an activated alley will be in the Z Block at 18th and Blake, which will run between Blake and Wazee, from 18th to 19th Street.  The alley will go straight between the Z Block, and will offer many more opportunities for retail space than the street-facing space will offer.  Z Block won’t open until late 2016 or early 2017, so plans for what will go into the alley are extremely preliminary, but they are already planning to house a distiller, a chocolatier, coffee-bean roaster, ice cream maker, (no candle stick-maker…yet), and other various restaurants and clubs…and all their store fronts will be in the alley.  What’s cool is that the alley will still function like an alley – trash pick-up, deliveries, office recycling programs (oh wait, there are none – cough – DENVER – cough).  These deliveries and pick-ups will occur in the early morning hours, just like they do in other alleys, and then function as an activated alley for the rest of the day.

Denver does have a few programs in place to clean up its alleys. It allows people to use them for pop-up parties (with permits, of course), painted alley murals, updated and brighter lighting fixtures, and an infrastructure analysis from Denver Public Works for recommendations on how to fix up the alley.  In RiNo, there is a Mayor’s Design Award that goes to “Art Alley” mural winners; in Cherry Creek, there is a zoning task force that is trying to encourage alley activation; the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program at CU Denver won an award for its study of our downtown alleys.  All signs point to Denver being on the right path to alley activation; we just need it to actually happen.  With all of this news surrounding activating alleys, I’d really like to see it happen before Z Block opens.

In fact, the alley behind our office would make a great place for a chocolatier…just sayin’!

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