A strip of dry and unused land near Highland Ave. is being transformed into a vibrant community space as part of a grassroots effort by neighbors to beautify their community.

Volunteers will gather for the Highland Ave. beautification project on Highland Ave. just south of Ocean Park (West of Lincoln) on June 14 at 9 a.m. to plant drought tolerant landscape, install access paths, put down paving stones and create a space for community involvement.

Organizers said the work is an outgrowth of a community effort to rethink the nearby alley as a place where neighbors can meet, rather than just a concrete driveway. Local resident Stephanie Speights began reimagining the alley as part of her work as a graduate student studying Urban Sustainability. She said she had spent 20 years living in the same apartment but she realized many of the nearby residents were strangers to her and that the alleyway could become a physical connection to her community.

“I’d watched their children grow up but I didn’t know them and I thought that was ridiculous,” she said. “In the last year and a half we’ve been holding get togethers and I’ve gotten to know my neighbors.”

At first, the alley was simply a gathering point but she said as neighbors began to gather there during their celebrations, the space became somewhere to build relationships.

She said the project to beautify the nearby parkway, a strip of open land running near the alley, is also a way of building a sense of community among neighbors.

“It’s not about the parkway, it’s about social capital and forming relationships and empowering other people to do the same thing,” she said. “To be a leader but also to empower others and encourage others to be leaders in the community. If we sit around and wait for City government, it’s not going to get done so we have the power to do it ourselves.”

Participants are asked to bring garden tools of all varieties and organizers said tools should be clearly marked with the name of their owner to facilitate their return at the end of the day.

Residents are encouraged to bring food and snacks to participate in the potluck meal.

Youth volunteers are encouraged to wear clothes that can get dirty, as there will be a kid-friendly rock-painting project for volunteers to young to help with the heavy lifting.

The work is going to cost about $1,000 and Speights said she has raised about half of that so far. She said she’s currently covering the rest but donations are welcome to help offset the out-of-pocket costs.

For more information about the project, visit www.facebook.com/groups/AlleyUp or www.alleyup.org.

matt@smdp.com

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