The Adaptation of Alleyways Part 7: Sacramento / So What

Liestal Alley located between L and M streets in Midtown Sacramento. 

Something generally viewed as major life event happened recently; I moved. To say that I moved feels understated in a way, as it involved a 5 day trek from Chicagoland to Northern California with my dad. There were peaks, valleys, beers, and breakfasts. We wove our way through the ridges of the west as if we were bound by some sort of western spirit. In many instances, it was a moment that I will cherish forever, but at the same time so what? I have been in transition for an unspeakable amount of time, and despite all of that moving, I feel sluggish. There is only so much fluff you can take before you want to be a real person again. I need production. I need consistency. I need to feel that I am working towards that next transition period. Enough of the peaks and beers, I need some valleys and breakfasts. 

I am currently writing this blog post while inside the shop shown in the photo above, a coffee house called Old Soul Co. Upon my arrival and first few nights in Sacramento, I stumbled across this place in my Midtown neighborhood. Located in Liestal Alley, Old Soul Co. is one of the leaders in the city's initiative to improve the alleyways throughout Midtown.

In 2011, Midtown decided to name their alleyways as a part of a way to develop more ownership and identity for the city's forgotten amenity. That was a small, yet important step in the development of the urban context within Sacramento. Still, the property owners saw alleyways as most of us do...narrow, scary, and filled with trash. What this coffee shop did with the city next is what changed perceptions around the community. With the help of Edible Pedal (an incredible bike shop located within the alley) and Old Soul Co., the city developed plans to improve Liestal Alley, the first alleyway adaptation of its kind in Sacramento. 

Skip a number of chapters ahead, and here we stand today, with Sacramento on the verge of entering the Pantheon of American Urban Alleyway Greats (alongside Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco). But, before I jump ahead to what is still yet to be (something that I am still trying to learn more about) let us look back at Liestal Alley, the first adapted alleyway precedent of Sacramento. 



What makes Liestal Alley so successful?

1. First of Its Kind: This may not be a great design principal, but there is something to be said about starting an initiative. Not only does it bring great interest to a new concept for many, but due to the fact that it is the only one of its kind in Midtown, those interested have but one option to fill their burgeoning curiosity.  

2. Pavement/Groundplane: The night that I found myself in Midtown, I had an extensive conversation with one of the patrons at Edible Pedal. He was effusive about his alley, sipping wine and eating cheese with the owner of the shop while appropriately seated within the alley. I asked him what made it so effective, and he immediately answered by speaking to the paving. After showing me the before and after photos, explaining to me the ease of installation, and the permeability of the pavers, I too was convinced that the paving made all of the difference. Not only that, but by simply delineating itself as a pedestrian space, cars rarely passed through; and if they did, they made a point of avoiding eye contact with their pedestrian cohorts. 

3. Business Buy In: Something that I did not get the opportunity to experience while overseas was the immense importance that businesses have in these sorts of projects. Since I have been in Sacramento substantially longer than any of my previous cities of study, this weight has begun to set in. Not only have Edible Pedal and Old Soul Co. been integral in the approval and construction of Liestal Alley, but they have been major advocates for other businesses to make the jump as well. While at the public alleyway meeting, many businesses in similar circumstances looked to these two for guidance.

4. Identity: This principal could be debated, but based on my early observations and conversations, it would appear that most people know this place as the alleyway they are comfortable in. They know these businesses as the businesses along the alleyway. In fact, I would bet you that if you were to place businesses with the exact same services on the outside of the block, they would do markedly poorer than the businesses on the inside of the block. Why? Identity. 

How could you possibly forget a place like Edible Pedal? 

This is a long process, and one that has really just begun. Understanding the processes of city planning, and the drunken snails pace that they tend to follow, I think I will just sit down and enjoy this valley; perhaps over breakfast in Liestal Alley. Or just photoshop more Iowa cows in urban contexts. 

News and Notes

  • So Minneapolis is doing more cool stuff. This time, with woonerfs



    noun:  a road in which devices for reducing or slowing the flow of traffic have been installed. A Dutch term used to describe shared road, and to promote the badassery of pedestrian life.

  • Sacramento Porchfest, a small music festival put on by intersection at 21st and I streets, blew me away this weekend. Local artists, playing on local patrons porches, with local beer being served, with all proceeds going to a local school for the underprivileged? Sign me up for more of that. 

  • I am currently listening to....Miles Davis. It's not new. So what? Neither are alleys.