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Ambivalent Alley Activation:

Re-working public space through

encounter across difference
Stella Jones
Department of Geography

What is Alley Activation?

Goal of re-claiming alleys for public use

Physical and environmental changes

Promoting use by businesses and

customers, to the exclusion of urban

Theoretical Framework
Relational Poverty
Calls attention to the relationships of poverty and privilege
How urban redevelopment uses discourse and strategies to
Reading for difference
Analyze poverty politics of particular people in particular
Zones of Encounter
Spaces where poverty and privilege come together
Potential for transformation and alliance
(Valentine 2008; Lawson and Elwood 2014; Lawson 2012; Gibson-Graham 2006)

Research Question
How is public space and urban redevelopment in this alley
negotiated around and through class boundaries to present more
hopeful possibilities of urban space?

Case and Methods

Single case study
An alley in Seattle currently participating in Alley Activation
Used by both social services and businesses
Research subjects
Leaders of the businesses and service organizations
Semi-structured in-depth interviews and participant


Poverty Politics in the Alley

A lot of these services are in support of, but also to be fair, in
place of a lot of services that our public systems are failing to
deliver to large numbers of our population -Joseph

And Im not gonna lie that it hasnt impacted our business,

because it does. But its how, as a business owner, its how I
approach changing the conversation, the dialogue, to have it be
a positive impact rather than a negative one. -Amy

A Re-working of Alley Activation

Leaders primary goal of Alley Activation is to facilitate cross-class
For the purpose of ending the stigma about homelessness
Leaders acting as allies for social service patrons
Conversations with business customers or other privileged

Limits to Allyship
A lack of Self-Governance
Social service patrons not present in decision-making
Patron involvement is a model of inclusion, not powersharing
Results in Poverty Governance
Behavioral rules set and enforced by organization leaders
How do we achieve the kinds of wanted behavior in the
alley? -Joseph

The Politics of Visibility

Physical changes like adding lighting and signage purposely
increase visibility of social services
When people are hanging out [waiting for services], it could be
intimidating to people who dont understand whats going on. And
so the projects that were proposing is more like public space and
education. So that we can all use the space better. -Amy

Without self-governance, no consideration of potential unwanted

consequences faced by homeless patrons

Youre gonna put on these lights and people are gonna worry
about the folks waiting in line for [the] shelter I guess thats
my worry about the worries. Like, I think that as an alley... its a
place, for people who need to hide, to hide. -Katrina

A re-working of urban development for cross-class encounter

Lack of self-governance presents risk that this project could re-align

with normative development goals

To me its like, oh, this could be a social change! And it could be

replicated in other parts of the city. -Amy

Many many thanks to:
The Geography Honors cohort: Mason Struna, Inna Shynshyn, Koji
Pingry, Rachel Kirschner, Kristen Hiatt, David Urbina
My faculty mentor Sarah Elwood-Faustino
Professor Vicky Lawson
My family and friends
The Mary Gates Endowment for providing scholarship support for this
And many others!

Gibson-Graham, J. K. 2006. Postcapitalist Politics. Minneapolis, MN, USA: University of Minnesota Press. http:
Lawson, Victoria, and with Middle Class Poverty Politics Research Group. 2012. Decentring Poverty Studies:
Middle Class Alliances and the Social Construction of Poverty: Decentring Poverty Studies. Singapore
Journal of Tropical Geography 33 (1): 119.
Lawson, Victoria, and Sarah Elwood. 2014. Encountering Poverty: Space, Class, and Poverty Politics.
Antipode 46 (1): 20928. doi:10.1111/anti.12030.
Valentine, G. 2008. Living with Difference: Reflections on Geographies of Encounter. Progress in Human
Geography 32 (3): 32337. doi:10.1177/0309133308089372.
Background: https://catalyst.uw.
Post Alley: