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Thread: Elements of Urban Design - Alleys

  1. #1
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Elements of Urban Design - Alleys

    I want to get everyone's thoughts and opinions on the topic of alleys. I think this forgotten and much maligned urban design component is very important for a humane urban form. Its presence is a sign of very sophiscated urban design.

    I live in Chicago, the city of alleys, and it is a great place to put all the nasties of urban living: cars, utilities, garbage, etc.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    I wish that we had more alleys here. Our city is over 250 years old, and it has been a built environment hundreds of years. We have half streets, but we have houses on them. I agree, they are needed part of cities. They can provide access to off street parking, *or access to parking garages, place for deliveries, and for trash removal.
    There is no such thing as failure, only learning experiences. However, it is our choice to learn the lesson and change or not.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    Philly is full of them but you wouldn't dare call them "alleys".
    All the owners of the grand homes on the A and B streets subdivided again and again so that many alleys are shoulder to shoulder trinities and rowhomes.

    The cartways are often 5ft., sometimes less, so many are roped off and some retain their street name and residences but have been converted to ped. only.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Runner's avatar
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    Alleys are a fundamental part of good urbanism. As stated found in old urbanism they are a sought after ingredient of new urbanism.
    Cheers,
    UrbanRunner
    :)
    _____________________________
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  5. #5

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    Dittos, but boy do public works and police departments hate them (expensive to maintain and difficult to patrol).

    We will only permit them, reluctantly, if completely privatized.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    Alley...or driveways as we call them in Philly are great.

    A great place for kids to play, trash pickup, parking cut around one-way streets, etc. I couldn't imagine living without them.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    The alley is one component of New Urbanism that I am reluctant to advocate. I'll take on public works on other issues, but they are correct in saying that it is an extra expense to construct and maintain. Buyers are often unwilling to accept them, and you are limiting shared backyard lot lines (with their social aspects, too). In my experience, in new development, alleys are best limited to serving a small number of homes, in special circumstances.

  8. #8

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    Never thought about the backyard socializing aspect. You actually have people talking over their rear fences? Everything is fenced in with six (or eight) foot tall wooden fences or masonry walls out here. In this type of situation, maybe the alleys themselves allow neighbors to see each other more than they would, frankly.

    Police and Public Works, though, hate alleys.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Trail Nazi's avatar
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    One of the very few things that I liked about living in Savannah were the alleys. One of the places I lived in the Orlando area had alleys and they were so great. No trash cans out on the street and the front of the house just looked so much more tidier. Plus, extra parking areas.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    My last house had an alley. I agree its a great way to hide the nasties. They truly are the athletic supporter of the urban form.

    At my last house, alleys were public right of way, privately maintained like sidewalks - abutting owners had to do sweeping and snow removal, the city would do major construction projects and assess the abutters.

    My alley was two blocks long due to unique physical geography. I was smack dab in the middle, with uncaring neighbors to the east, only the west was remotely passable all winter. All wheel drive became essential.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Originally posted by BKM
    Never thought about the backyard socializing aspect. You actually have people talking over their rear fences?
    Actually I met all my neighbors across the alley before I met my neighbors across the street. Most fences were low pickets and not high security types (you want your neighborhood watch captains to see who's in your yard when you're not home right?)

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Plus PlannerGirl's avatar
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    there are alleys in DC and many parts of Arlington, they work well and dont seem to have the crime issues i was always told alleys have.

    They are a fantastic functional part of an area and live beside one no problem.
    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin

    Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO- HOO what a ride!'"

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    St. Louis is a great alley city!
    ST. LOUIS: The City is Back. Back the City.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Originally posted by BKM
    Never thought about the backyard socializing aspect. You actually have people talking over their rear fences?
    Growing up, we always socialized with the neighbors on all sides. We would usually cut through yards rather than walk around the block to get to friends' houses. Our rear neighbors eventually put in a fence for their dog, but also put in a gate.

    Here I don't really know my backyard neighbors. The closest ones are more than 2000 feet away.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    I have never lived with an alley, but visited the house my dad grew up in and it had an alley. I listened to all of his amazing ‘50’s childhood stories, many which revolved around racing, or some event in the alleys….

    I would like an alley.

    Is there a safety issue?
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  16. #16
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    safety issue?

    I think the question of safety is a function of the people/neighborhood, not instrinsic to the nature of alleys.

    In my small hometown, we had alleys in the areas that were subdivided in the late-19th to early-20th centuries, and they were always clean. I loved racing through them on my bike. It seemed a cool secret way to get around town.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  17. #17

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    San Francisco has a lot of residential lanes that are basically inhabited alleys. Especially in parts of the city with heavy traffic/big streets, they can be a pleasant refuge. They are some of the coolest residential streets in the city.

    The city bordering Fairfield to the south (Suisun City) has one neo-trad alley project. Some of the alleys have second dwelling units on them, which I like. The homeowners pay hefty assessments, so the alleys are maintained and landscaped.

  18. #18
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    alleys are good for communities

    Alleys are great for cities attempting to facilitate New Urbanism and pedestrian friendly developments. The public works costs can be minimized since alleys allow people to park behind houses rather than on the street. The streets themselves can be narrower since on-street parking isn't necessary.

    In my experience and from what I have heard from others, cities trying to implement alleyways will have more success refering to them as "rear lanes". The term "alley" has bad conotations with many citizens. They associate them with the crime and homeless people, even though that is not the case in most situations. "Rear lanes" congures up images of a narrow country lane.

    Alleys are a tough sell in most suburban areas. The suburb I work in flat-out forbids them. We're currently working on a Comprehensive Plan and the citizen committee sounds fairly progressive, so there may be hope for New Urbanism.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian JNL's avatar
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    I'm not convinced.

    Is it really necessary to hide these activities? Sure, removing parking from the street could be a good thing, but alleys as places to play?? Alleys as pedestrian friendly??? Part of having a pedestrian-friendly area is that activities going on in the street create interest for pedestrians. Activities occurring in the front yard bring neighbours outdoors, facilitating interaction. Sounds to me like you'd only see other walkers or people driving past in cars if alleys were a regular feature.

    How hard is it to store your trash out of sight somewhere then bring it out at collection time??

    To me, it seems like a backward way of doing things, and I thought New Urbanism aimed to encourage active fronts on housing. Granted though, alleys/rear lanes are rare as hen's teeth here. And so are high fences as described by BKM.

    I guess I'm influenced by my involvement in crime prevention and therefore have sympathy for the police anti-alley perspective.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian biscuit's avatar
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    Originally posted by JNL
    I'm not convinced.

    Is it really ncessary to hide these activities? Sure, removing parking from the street could be a good thing, but alleys as places to play?? Alleys as pedestrian friendly???
    Oh yes. Alleys, or "rear lanes" are a very organic part of urbanism I can't think of one neighborhood in my city in which allys are not used.

    Currently I live in a dense neighborhood of row houses where the alleys work as a type of communal back yard. Garages are located there (In addition to on street parking), hey allow access to the small back gardens, and are always full of kids playing basketball or throwing a football around (Better there than in the street where they can hit my car). I'm actually suprised how many kids play there, considering that there is a massive city park only 1.5 blocks away.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian JNL's avatar
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    I'll have to take your word on it biscuit!

    I still don't see why these things should take place out the back. If the street is not safe enough for kids to play in their front yards, then that is a problem that needs to be addressed.

  22. #22
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    alleys=NU=alleys

    The values presented by the marketers for New Urbanism, I think, have mislead people to think alleys are a function of New Urbanism, when it is really a function of sophiscated urbanism which the NUers have co-opted.

    My favorite part is the conituous pedestrian environment at the front of houses. It helps to reduce curbs cuts for every house on a block down to nearly zip, which can facilitate greater safety.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  23. #23
    I have almost always lived in a house on an alley. Growing up, the alleys were 'sideloaded', if that's a term. In other words, the rhythm of the block was house, alley, house, house, alley, house. Probably 3 alleys to a block, with 4 houses to an alley.

    My old house and the one I just built are both on 'backloaded' alleys. Personally, I find the backloaded alleys to be more problematic. In terms of convenience, it's hard to attach the garage to the back of the house on a narrow lot and have much of backyard. In terms of crime, I also feel that this backloaded design enables it a little bit more (something I'm concerned with since there've been at least 5 thefts on our block the past couple of weeks, all from the backs of the houses). My guess is that there are fewer eyes on a backloaded alley, because there are only backs of garages and houses facing it. Plus, the length of the backloaded alley is longer than a sideloaded one, giving more places to hide.

    Personally, I'd like to see the sideloaded alleys again. It gets the garages away from the front of the street while (I think) cutting down on crime (more windows facing the alley, plus a shorter, more visible length) and enabling an attached or detached placement of the garage along with a backyard.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    "Rear Lanes"

    "Backloaded"

    I am surprised this thread has not degenerated yet.



    I am unconvinced on the value of alleys, despite all of the personal experiences above. I have also experienced alleys. What they offer, particularly outside of dense urban neighborhoods, can easily be replicated in the street, front yard, or elsewhere in the neighborhood. Many New Urban neighborhoods make sparing, or even no use of alleys. They are but one element to choose from, among many alternatives.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Runner's avatar
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    Originally posted by JNL
    How hard is it to store your trash out of sight somewhere then bring it out at collection time??
    Far too hard for some people

    Originally posted by JNL
    I guess I'm influenced by my involvement in crime prevention and therefore have sympathy for the police anti-alley perspective.
    Alleys might present problems if they are infrequently used and provide concealment from view. However, on the flip side they provide convenient access for the cop on the beat to be motoring through areas that around here would otherwise be hidden by 6' privacy fences. I'm not aware of a law enforcement stand against alleys nor of a CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design) commitment to end there use.

    Now the IACP (Intl. Assoc of Chiefs of Police) probably would come out against them. The collective common sense of that entire organization would amount to less than that of a grape fruit.
    Cheers,
    UrbanRunner
    :)
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