Design team Dan Cheetham and Michelle Tarsney led a team of designers, artists, non-profits and city planners to generate 20ft WIDE, a project aimed to point out the potential of often-overlooked alleyways in Austin, Texas.
Cheetham, who operates under his firm’s name fyoog, Austin, named the project 20ft WIDE in honor of the city’s original 1839 plan, which dictated each alley be 20-feet wide.
“Austin’s downtown alleys remain largely unnoticed,” Cheetham says. “Yet these public spaces are in danger of being removed by super-block developments, which will alter the character and scale of the city fabric.
20ft WIDE sought to bring awareness and appreciation to this urban space and foster discussion about the role of the alley in the city while generating new possibilities for its use.”
To draw attention to 20ft WIDE, the team hosted a launch party; family day; Pechu Kucha night, which is a fast-moving presentation in which 20 images are shown for 20 seconds each; a breakfast for downtown commuters; a volunteer dinner; live music; and yoga. All activities were scheduled in one alley but demonstrate the possible uses of comparable alleys. The installation and corresponding activities took place throughout one week in April 2013.
Not only were activities engaging, but Cheetham aimed to make the space visually interesting, as well. Orange, pink and yellow tulle stretched through the air above the alley while 1,000 origami peace cranes folded by children swooped up a fire escape. On the ground, stacked pallets, burlap sacks filled with donated clothing, polystyrene shipping foam and donated plant materials paid homage to the original alley aesthetic. Limestone walls typical of central Texas construction were left bare in areas to showcase the daily beauty of an alley. In other areas, pieces of art from local artists and plants decorated the alleyway.
Although Cheetham says there are no plans to recreate the exhibit this year, the city council has expressed interest in doing something similar in the future. “20ft WIDE was kind of a pilot project to highlight issues in the entitlement process that might be changed to accommodate this type of thing in the future,” he says. “The council is still reviewing recommendations from the 20ft WIDE team about changes to permits and process.”