Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

Meet Us in the Alley!

Too many narrow spaces between and behind buildings have gotten a bad rap. That's why communities are "activating" their alleyways.

Now is no better time to think outside of the box as to where to create new public spaces for a community to safely gather outside.

Note: This post is adapted from the article “Meet Us in the Alley,” by AARP Livable Communities (, and is used here by permission. To stay informed about AARP’s livability work, subscribe to the free, weekly AARP Livable Communities e-Newsletter.

Alleyways are generally perceived as sinister places where bad things happen and good people don’t go. The truth is, an alley is whatever it's used for. An alley that isn’t intentionally used in a productive, pleasant way can turn bad, but that needn't be the case. In fact, during the COVID-19 pandemic, alleyways have provided a safe and socially-distant way for restaurants to remain open and for diners to eat out.

Pittsfield, Massachusetts

In 2017, the community planning and design firm Team Better Block helped to reimagine a stretch of Tyler Street. The alleyway activation, conceived by resident Kate Louzon, attracted attention for its umbrella canopy and seemingly magnetic powers.

“I came across the umbrella alley in Portugal and I thought it would be really cool to do it in Pittsfield," she explains in a Team Better Block after-event report. About the temporarily transformed space, the firm declared: "Kate Louzon created a warm and inviting space for sitting, conversing, eating or simply people-watching. It was the show stopper of the project!"

Brevard, North Carolina

Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

"People now change their routes to experience the walkway. It gets folks to lift their heads up, look around and enjoy some untraditional and unexpected art," says city planner Kristi Weber. “The alley is a bright beacon in our downtown. Children love to hop and skip on the colorful geometric spaces. People walking by can’t help but stop and take a look."

The alley activation project showed the community how a useful but stark passageway between the lakefront and the downtown retail area could become a livelier link.

The alleyway wasn’t closed during the transformation work, and passersby were invited to join the rejuvenation process by painting a faux floor tile or several. Visitors asked about the transformation happening before their eyes. The project sparked conversations about how to activate the other downtown alleys so that each could have a unique look and offer a distinctive experience.

Frederick, Maryland

Upper Darby, Pennsylvania

A 135-foot-long mural in the town spans the wall of a building in the heart of Upper Darby's 69th Street business district.

The public artwork highlights the town's history by depicting landmarks including the Tower Theater, a historic music venue built in the 1920s. Famous faces connected to the town make an appearance. (Comedy star Tina Fey was raised in Upper Darby.) Welcoming residents and visitors alike, the word "hello" appears in 60 languages throughout the mural and celebrates the community's diversity.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Camden, South Carolina

Camden’s Main Street program transformed its Broad Street alley into a vibrant throughway for shoppers and diners. The city made the makeover a community event by inviting the public to stop by and then teaching visitors how to make stained glass–like globes out of tissue paper. The completed art pieces, LED string lights and UV shade canopies helped to create a decorative, open ceiling. Benches and planters were later added to turn the space into an elegant outdoor gathering place.

Says Katharine Spadacenta, the program manager of Camden Main Street: "It’s wonderful to see the residents who created pieces strolling through the alley and pointing out to friends and family where their piece is located."


Community Outreach Programs

Housing Opportunity Grant
Housing Opportunity Grants support state and local REALTOR® Associations’ affordable housing activities. The goal of the program is to position REALTORS® as leaders in improving their communities by creating affordable housing

Smart Growth Grant
Smart growth is an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement. The Smart Growth Program offers state and local REALTOR® Associations to way to engage with government officials, community partners and the general public in planning and designing community’s future.

Planned diversity initiatives makes good business sense. REALTOR® Associations with well-planned diversity programs create a stronger sense of community, particularly in neighborhoods with high concentrations of foreign-born and minority residents who are moving up the socioeconomic ladder and are buying homes.

NAR Placemaking Resources

Placemaking Guide: A Guide to Transform a Public Space into a Community Place
REALTORS® and state and local association staff can learn the details of Placemaking, the kinds of projects placemaking entails, how to organize them, and where to go for assistance and resources.

Placemaking Webinar Series
Our Placemaking Webinar Series will provide more in depth information on the various types of Placemaking and how REALTORS® were involved in Placemaking activities in their communities.

Placemaking Grant
The Placemaking Grant funds the creation of new public spaces, like pocket parks, trails & gardens, in a community. The grant focuses on “lighter, cheaper, quicker” placemaking projects, which can be built under a year and cost less  than $200,000.

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Smart Growth

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