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Greening Harlem Place Alley Could Result in Cleaner Stormwater, Less Polluted Air

By Eric Richardson
Published: Wednesday, May 05, 2010, at 11:56AM
Harlem Place Eric Richardson [Flickr]

A pedestrian crosses Harlem Place alley on 5th street.

Could green changes to the Historic Core's Harlem Place Alley make an impact on the Downtown environment?

That's the question asked by a team from the University of California, Santa Barbara that has been working with the Downtown L.A. Neighborhood Council's sustainability committee for the last year. On Monday, the four masters students from the Bren School Environmental Science and Management presented their results.

The team, made up of Theresa Morgan, Katie Riley, Rebecca Tannebring and Leanne Veldhuis, looked at options that would green the alley while still allowing it to service trash trucks and public safety vehicles.

By adding permeable paving and finding "nodes" of underutilized space to plant vegetation, the team believes the alley could capture nearly all of the stormwater runoff that hits it, reducing pollution that is eventually discharged into the ocean.

"Greenwall" surfaces -- plantings that rise up the side of a building -- could reduce the temperature in the alley by approximately two degrees celsius. Trees planted would be chosen for their ability to capture air pollutants.

All of it would be done while maintaining vehicle access to the alley, which still services trash trucks and public safety vehicles.

Given that Los Angeles has 900 miles of alleyways, an expanded program could produce big results for the city. As usual, though, the issue comes down to one of cost. Greening Harlem Place's three blocks would cost somewhere between $300,000 and $1 million. Permeable paving must be maintained to keep its drainage potential, and features like a bioswale would require planning to keep from filling with trash and waste.

Still, the sustainability committee hopes that the alley can provide a test case for the idea's benefits. The team will be presenting their findings to the city, and the neighborhood council plans to look for funding for the concept.

The full report can be found on the DLANC Sustainability Committee's website.


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