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New Gates Intended to Clean Up Alley Spaces

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, August 11, 2008, at 04:41PM
Alley Gates Eric Richardson [Flickr]

This gate on the south side of 7th, between Spring and Main, was removed for construction at the Broadway Exchange building and has now been returned.

Over the last few weeks a pair of gates have been placed across alleys to the north and south of 7th, between Spring and Broadway. Both are intended to cut down on nuisance uses of the alley, a favorite spot for drug use, urination and defecation.

While the gates do a good job of helping to clean up the neighborhood, it's important to not let their installation cause us to forget the value of alleyways as a public resource.

Downtown's alleys are a contested space: publicly owned open space with plenty of potential neighborhood uses, but currently home to quite the range of undesirable activities.

The alley between Spring and Broadway has quite the history. In the late 1980s it was known to LAPD and city officials as "Crack Alley" and was a battleground for dealers and law enforcement. A 1988 LA Times story recounts the scene:

After leaving the hotel, Gutierrez and Markow attacked the nearby crack scene. Driving east on 6th Street, Gutierrez made a quick right turn into "Crack Alley," as the cops call it, a major center of drug dealing and use. It is a foul-smelling concrete channel between 6th and 7th streets, straddling Broadway and Spring streets.

"Turn around, face the wall," they yelled at suspects who had just lit rock cocaine stuffed into cheap plastic pipes. Six men and a woman were spread-eagled against a wall. But arrests were few that night as, almost by sleight-of-hand, traffickers and users tossed their crack and pipes as the police moved in.

... In "Crack Alley," dealers took to the offensive, pushing big metal trash bins into the middle of the dingy alley to block police cars' entry. But the police kept attacking.

That section of alley was gated around that time. The one on the south side of 7th remained open, and more recently has been a major nuisance for senior residents in the Van Nuys building. The gates were installed as AIMCO kicked off a $42 million rehab to the building.

All involved recognize this current situation as a temporary one. The alleyways are public spaces, and need to be returned to public use. A 2004 streetscaping plan commissioned by the CRA proposed turning the alleys to pedestrian paseos, much as developer Tom Gilmore is doing with Harlem Alley in the Old Bank District.

For the moment, though, just having an alley that's safe and doesn't stink is a good step in the right direction.

PREVIOUSLY: Heroes Mural Raises Question: Why Do Only Film Shoots Get Cool Alleys? (June 19, 2008), Alley Closures and Public Spaces (September 28, 2006), where do you live? "Crack Alley" (August 30, 2004)


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