For John Piwowarski, gating the side alley next to his home is decidedly about keeping people out. He has lived on the northeast corner of Eastern Avenue and South Broadway for more than 20 years, but in recent years, problems in the alley became so pronounced that he bought a security camera system to record what was happening.
The results were worse than he thought. He said he has video of people urinating, defecating and using drugs.
"It's been a real emotional roller coaster with these cameras," he said. "At times, I've been very frustrated and angered and want to find the person who [defecated] on the side of my house. It's disgusting — or can be humorous, depending on your mindset."
On a recent day, a man was sleeping on the ground just outside the alley, which opens to a vacant lot on Broadway.
There's little police can or are willing to do, he said. "They just tell them to move on, make them pour out their beer," he said.
Piwowarski would sometimes confront people.
"It was to the point that he'd almost get locked up because he'd get so fed up," said Ed Marcinko, a neighborhood leader who has been helping Piwowarski through the gating process.
Piwowarski estimates that he's been trying for two years to get the alley gated. He needed a neighborhood sponsor and approval from 11 of his 13 neighbors to meet the city's 80 percent threshold. But one neighbor uses the rear of his home as his main entrance and wasn't keen on having to unlock the gates to get there.
Piwowarski eventually persuaded the holdout, but is still working through the gating process with the city, seeking approval for a building permit. One cost estimate for the gates put the project at $4,900. He hopes neighbors will chip in, but understands that he might have to shoulder the cost himself.
For Piwowarski, the appeal of living close to the city's bars, restaurants and shops has given way to extreme frustration with crime and grime. But he thinks the gate will relieve that stress and help restore his love of the city.
"I kind of kick myself. ... How come you waited 20 years before you finally did something about it?" he said.
Gate proponents face an array of roadblocks beyond the lengthy process with the city. Residents have had concerns about having to shift trash collection from the alley to the front of the street. In Reservoir Hill, Mosby said, some concerns were based more on principle — "They felt like it was a way to restrict people from the neighborhood," Mosby said.
Clifton Brown, a 28-year-old Ashburton resident, feels the same way. "I think it creates divisions," he said. "It makes it seem like we're almost becoming this society where we collectively share this world but want to be separate from each other."
Stephanie Streb sees it as a matter of security and a way to bring her neighbors together. The Bolton Hill resident's home was broken into from the rear last year. It happened during the day — a time she normally would have been home. But that day she was running an errand.
The burglar took jewelry handed down from her great-grandmother, items collected during travels across the world, and pieces she had designed herself, in addition to electronics and a flute.
"It was devastating emotionally," she said.
Her block consists of more than 20 rowhouses, each with long back yards with parking pads or garages. Streb's pending gating project would not consume the entire alley, just an L-shaped cut-through at the end of the block that snakes behind a handful of homes, connecting the east and south sections of the alley. It serves no real purpose now, she said.
"It's a junky, dirty, filthy alleyway that has trash cans and broken glass," she said.
But Streb is effusive when thinking about the potential for the space once it is blocked off. Neighbors might knock down their fences and install a bike rack.
"We could have chickens," she said. "It's exciting to think about a space you can do stuff with."