Thousands more alleys across Detroit are expected to get attention under a yearslong effort by the city expected to wrap up in 2024.
Detroit has invested $28 million in the removal of trash, debris and overgrowth from 2,322 alleys since 2021. Neighborhood block clubs have submitted nearly 3,000 requests for alley cleanup in neighborhoods throughout Detroit and city officials say they’re close to fulfilling all of them. The city budgeted $5.6 million in the upcoming 2023-24 fiscal year in hopes of clearing 1,000 alleys, which would leave around 1,500 alleys to be tended to next year.
“Many of the alleyways used to be used for garbage pickup or garage access, and as the service shifted, the usage diminished in those spaces,” said Zak Meers, director of the city’s blight remediation division. “You can really see the change that’s happening by removing this blight from the neighborhoods.”
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Alley cleanup was a top-ranked priority among Detroit residents during public input meetings held by the city’s budget office last year. The General Services Department and Department of Neighborhoods coordinate alley clean up with the block clubs that request cleanups by filling out an online form. The city received alley cleanup requests from 367 block clubs and identified 5,000 total alleyways which need to be restored.
While Detroit makes strides in completing the work, City Council members are looking toward the future. In a closing resolution for the upcoming fiscal budget, the council requested that the city direct more funding toward street lights in alleys and neighborhood blocks. The city is also allocating $5.4 million in federal pandemic relief funds to design green spaces, art installations and community activities in alleyways throughout the city.
Ray Solomon, executive director of the Department of Neighborhoods, said residents have long complained of illegal dumping and overgrowth in alleyways that have been closed for decades.
“Brother” Rodney Richards reflected on a childhood memory of picking pears from neighborhood trees while cleaning an alley as part of the city’s blight remediation team. Richards said the loss of fruit bearing trees is a similar sign of the neglect facing Detroit neighborhoods. He took pride Friday in helping restore an alley in Grixdale Farms.
“We have everything we need right here,” Richards said.
A crew of city employees used powered saws to cut out snarled brush and collected debris into a neat pile with heavy loaders. Within a few hours, the pile stood around six feet tall and 10 feet across. Meers said 15,000 tires and nearly 90,000 tons of debris have been removed from alleys so far.
“It’s really difficult without the proper machinery to remove that type of stuff, just the sheer magnitude and weight,” Meers said. “When we pull that out, the goal is for the block clubs to do the maintenance moving forward, because we’ve done the literal heavy lifting.”
Detroit Alley Neighborhood Clean Up Unit Supervisor Leslie Ellison said many residents are grateful to see the work continue.
“When they grew up, the alleys were open and people used to play in them,” Ellison said. “We’re just trying to get back to that. We just want people to have access so they can come into their yards and don’t have to be looking at garbage.”