Green alley, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from lfchadde’s photostream

Pittsburgh’s narrow streets and working-class row houses are part of its charm and are part of what make our neighborhoods special. But we all know how difficult it can be to keep up the alleyways behind these row houses and narrow streets. We have hundreds of miles of alleyways in Pittsburgh that have fallen into total disrepair, many of which are too full of potholes, debris, and overgrowth to even drive through safely. We often see these alleyways as liabilities and our resource-starved city departments can’t give them the attention they need.  However, with some innovative thinking and proven green technologies we could turn these liabilities into assets for our neighborhoods.

1. Permeable Alleys

Pittsburgh’s alleyways are the perfect testing ground for innovative stormwater management techniques to alleviate flooding and reduce stress on our sewer system. Cities from Chicago to Los Angeles have begun transforming their alleys into stormwater capture tools. It’s time that we do the same. We should identify key neighborhoods that suffer from chronic flooding and begin a pilot project to repave the alleys with permeable pavers – a form of porous pavement that allows water to seep down into the ground and keeps it out of the sewer system. This could remove hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from the system each year and give that rainwater a place to go other than into our basements and into our rivers.  Permeable pavers aren’t right for every road but for alleys that tend to get little traffic and require less regular maintenance it is a perfect fit.

2.  Green Neighborhoods

Not only can we retrofit our alleys to begin retaining rainfall, but we can work with neighboring residents and businesses to green them with native plantings, rain gardens, bioswales, and other green infrastructure improvements that retain even more water and beautify neighborhoods in the process.

Greening our alleyways is a public infrastructure project that everyone can be a part of. It doesn’t cost much to plant rain gardens and it can be an enriching neighborhood partnership that brings communities together while helping to solve a costly and environmentally damaging problem.

3. Healthy Rivers

The excess rainwater that floods our sewers causes raw sewage to pour into our rivers after every storm. The effect on the wildlife that live in the rivers and the quality of the water we drink is a serious problem. Green alleys can help keep our rivers healthy.