From Alley to Parklet: One Town’s Community Effort to Transform a Block

In the town of Northampton, Massachusetts, community involvement is helping move a placemaking project forward

Downtown Northampton (photo: Trace Meek)

Downtown Northampton is not your typical small city. Within its borders, it appears more urban thanks to its walkability and public green spaces. And with a café culture, passersby often witness residents sitting outside coffee shops and restaurants, all while enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. Northampton is a city that has done a great job of creating a pleasant and thriving downtown.

But the Massachusetts town of around 30,000 wants to expand its placemaking options, and it’s not just planners who have set out to implement changes to downtown’s public spaces. Members of the community — along with city officials — have turned their attention to Crackerbarrel Alley, a one-block long alleyway that runs between two downtown buildings.

Cracker Barrel Alley currently (photo: Patronicity)

Within the next year, the city hopes to transform this small alley into a parklet with seating and greenery in a park-like setting. This would include closing the alley to cars and opening it up solely for pedestrian use.

In an effort to transform the alley into an burgeoning public space, city officials have partnered with Patronicity, a fundraising platform for community based projects. By using the platform, Northampton is able to raise funds to help reach its $10,000 goal, which once achieved, will be matched by MassDevelopment, a firm that supports businesses and projects within the state.

Since the campaign’s launch in September, over 80 patrons have helped support the project’s funding, raising nearly $8,700. Wayne Feiden, city planner for Northampton, understands that community involvement is essential for creating useful public spaces. “Every time someone registers, whether they send us a dollar or a thousand dollars, it sends a clear message to the community that we want this,” Feiden tells Parksify.

In addition to the fundraising campaign, city officials are also accepting feedback from citizens over the proposed design of the project. Jonathan Berk, Director of New England Region of Patronicity, explains that Northampton is actively gathering input from residents.

“[The city] had a few different meetings with community members and got a feeling for what they want there and then they presented the project to Smith College design students who mocked up what they took from the feedback from the community,” says Berk.

One set of proposed plans for Cracker Barrel Alley (photo: Patronity)

With these plans in hand, the city was able to launch the campaign and become one step closer to reach its goal of developing more open spaces throughout the city. Feiden is working to implement improvement projects city-wide.

“About five years when we last did our open space recreation program, we added a pavement-to-parks program,” says Feiden. Through this program, the city is able to transform areas of the city, such as Crackerbarrel Alley.

To help test the proposed transformation, the city has created a temporary parklet to close off the alley and to experiment with design options. Feiden wants to make sure the alley transformation doesn’t impede with the lives of citizens in any way. For example, with residents living downtown — some above the alley — the city wants to figure out how to keep nighttime noise at a tolerable level. The test with the temporary parklet helps ensure that the project will be beneficial to all.

If the fundraising campaign is successful, the city will have a minimum of $20,000 (including the match from MassDevelopment) for the Crackerbarrel Alley conversion. The project will begin in the spring of 2017. Until then however, Northampton residents and visitors have other options including Pulaski Park, a recently renovated green space about 300 feet away from the alley. “The park is wonderful if you want to be in a big place,” says Feiden. “Some people want to be in a little alcove,” he says, referring to Crackerbarrel Alley.

Become a Parksify supporter! Receive our exclusive members-only newsletter and content for as little as $1.