Downtown Alleys

“Let’s start the day with a revolution – one that happens inside your mind!  It is not about thinking outside the box, but rather realizing there is NO box to begin with!  ~ Sherryl Muriente

Back alleys don’t usually get much respect, and the alleys of West Palm Beach are no exception.  FAU School of Urban and Regional Planning instructor, Sherryl Muriente, aims to change that, with the help of her students and a diverse group of area residents and organizations.  We came together at C’est La Via – Rethinking the Alleyways, a visioning workshop held at 312 Clematis, a gallery on one of the busiest downtown streets.

Downtown Alley2I got invited because Sherryl had read a Transition Tales blog post and saw synergy between Transition and her passion for this work.  Indeed there is! After she messaged me, we spoke at length on the phone and I got very excited about the concept of urban acupuncture: small-scale interventions to transform the larger urban context.

Yoga, which I practice and teach, offers something similar: small, incremental changes in the body/mind that add up to better health and relationships over time.  Transition works like that, too: small groups of committed people who just do stuff with what they have, right where they are.  The core group was FAU graduate students, eager to interact with the community to make things happen.  I chatted with Jesse Bailey of  West Palm Beach Downtown Association who blogs at WalkableWPB (read his post about how Asheville redesigned itself into one of the most livable cities in the country), and with Aaron Wormus, creator of the lively blog, A Guy On Clematis.  My Transition colleagues, Mary Jo Aagerstoun of EcoArt South Florida , Ashley Moore of Permadigm Initiative, and my ever-supportive spouse, were in the group.   My tribe!

downtown alleys3“Think from your gut,” Sherryl instructed us, as we trooped out into the alleyway parallel to and south of Clematis to see what we had to work with.  It was a cool evening; the light was lovely, and the excitement infectious.   The block-long alley is perfect for pedestrians and has, as they say, good bones.  Better lighting and lots of paint would do wonders, of course, but through the lens of Transition, it wasn’t difficult to envision edible landscaping planted in a lovely courtyard; an instant community garden take shape in an open lot; murals on the walls of the narrow alleys; food carts, a mini-farmers market, sidewalk cafes, musicians, puppeteers and other street performers.  It could become a mini-festival; a win-win for building owners, merchants, residents and visitors.

Everyone was abuzz with ideas.  Soon, we would have a chance to share them back in the gallery, as helpers scribbled words and pictures on flip charts – Open Source in practice!  It made me think of Rob Hopkins’ description of Transition as more “party than protest” and exactly the model I aspire to for Transition Palm Beaches.

C’est La Via will be meeting against this week to talk about where we go from here, and April 12 has been tentatively set for our work day.   Let the revolution begin!



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