And What I Think About It...
Boys playing in an alley, Dubuque, Iowa. Photographed by John Vachon, Farm Security Administration, 1940. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [LC-USF33-T01-001703-M2 DLC]
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Wikipedia defines an alley as "a narrow street found in urban areas". The article continues:
The reduced usage of alleys has resulted in their decline. Under use, poor maintenance, poor night time illumination and narrow width has contributed to an increase in anti-social or illegal activities such as:
* dumping of rubbish
* sexual assault
* consensual sexual behaviour and/or prostitution
* illicit drug use
Some alleys do host these activities, but it seems to me that the reputation of many a mild-mannered, well-behaved alley is tainted by this list.
I have some pleasant memories associated with alleys. I enjoyed the narrow, ancient alleys in the historic downtown areas of two Bavarian villages -- Sulzbach (history) and Kleinwallstadt -- where we lived in Germany, and never saw a hint of any of the dubious activities listed above or felt I was in any danger.
When we lived in Warrensburg, MO, I walked my dog daily in an alley that ran for ten blocks or more. It was a lovely quiet walk, shaded by the backyard trees of the homes the alley served. Most of the alley was brick-paved, but there was rarely any vehicle traffic at all.
That residential alley wouldn't have been so quiet when the houses were young. It was once used for deliveries of ice, coal, and groceries to the rear of the house, to be carried in through the back door.
Nowadays, homeowners still bring many purchases through the back door, but the deliveries are made by the family automobile, which is driven down the street and parked beside the house or in the attached garage. I suppose that's why planners started omitting the alleys just like they forgot about sidewalks. With cars, who needs them?
New Urbanism is a movement and a school of thought that seeks to reverse urban sprawl and the problems associated with it by better city planning. A community should have connectivity, New Urbanists say-- that is, communities need a network of boulevards, smaller streets, alleys, and sidewalks.
As well as dispersing the vehicle traffic, such a web between homes, stores, and other business places makes walking and biking easier, more efficient and more pleasant. Alleys in New Urban communities often provide access to the home's garage.
This sounds right to me.