Alleys of Seattle Blog

Nordic Alleys

Posted in History by seattlealleys on May 6, 2014

Jyvaskyla, Finland


Jyvaskyla Fire Alley

After an incredible summer in San Francisco with the office of Hart Howerton, I made my way through the natural and urban landscapes of Finland, Sweden and Norway. These countries place their powerful nature at the crux of everything. I encountered a few forms of TIght Urbanism in each country. Finland has a remarkable history of small wooden gridded towns, most often being about 3 by 5 blocks. Some of these towns, such as Jyvaskyla – hometown of major Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto has such a grid layout. However, in order to adapt the grid, commonly used to organize buildings of stone, modifications to the model had to be made to accomodate the predominantly timber construction. These came in the form of fire alleys – often about 20′ wide mid-block and planted with deciduous trees to slow burn from one group of buildings to another. Here you can see one still in existence as a park now that most grid towns are made up of banal, post-war, concrete housing blocks.


Rauma, Finland


Another example of wooden urbanism is the very well preserved village of Rauma, the best kept example of Nordic wooden villages.  One can imagine these tiny lanes filled with people bustling about in the winter work hours with snow covering everything before one tucks into one of the low brightly colored buildings where everything is wood.  These scales create a very intimate form of urban life that serves as an itneresting model for high density low-rise neighborhoods.


Bryggen, Bergen, Norway


In Norway, Bergen is an interesting waterfront town on the rugged fjord coast of the southwest, where the Hanseatic League, a set of trade guilds had their northern outpost in the Middle Ages. The town is backed right up against a set of mountains and the sea, giving an interesting topography for building fabric to nestle into. Here are some examples of the Hanseatic Bryggen pier village and some of the more typical housing alleys in the town:


Bergen, Norway


From Berlin,

Big Moves

Posted in Miami, San Francisco by seattlealleys on April 26, 2014
First semester project: A New Waterfront for East Harlem

First semester project: A New Waterfront for East Harlem

With the first year of a Master’s in Urban Design at Harvard’s GSD coming to an end, it’s time to update the alleys! I have had an incredible year focusing on the city as a global condition, and learning about infrastructure, landscape, sea level rise, and other bigger aspects of the designed environment than I ever dreamed I would. I have begun work on my first set of alley projects a ways away from home – in Miami.

Summer 2014 research map: Scandinavia

Summer 2014 research map: Scandinavia

I am returning to the first place of my alley research for the summer in San Francisco to work with Hart Howerton, a large planning and urban design firm who were kind enough to select me as one of two recipients for their annual fellowship program. I will work for a couple months before heading to Finland, Sweden, and Norway to research how the built environment grows from the culture of the Scandinavian landscape.

Following this study, which will of course look at aspects of tight urbanism in the traditional and contemporary pieces of cities I encounter in the far north, I will be heading to Berlin to take on a year long study funded by the German government’s DAAD grant program to investigate the societal value of craft and how it relates to the building culture of German architecture and urbanism.

I look forward to encountering alleys through these next adventures, so stay tuned for findings and progress in the alleys.

Alley exhibit

Posted in Uncategorized by seattlealleys on September 8, 2013

If anyone in the Seattle area would be interested in using the Tight Urbanism exhibit boards, I am looking for a new home for them where they can be used for educational purposes.  These boards contain drawings, photos, maps, and writing explaining alley case studies in Chicago, San Francisco, Tokyo, Kyoto, and Melbourne.

Please send me an email if you would be interested in taking them:

see images of the boards here (pallet displays no longer exist) –

Thank you


New York Times article

Posted in Uncategorized by seattlealleys on July 20, 2013

Daniel Toole

My campaign to fund my time at Harvard will be featured in today’s issue of the New York Times in the finance section.  It’s incredible what an adventuresome idea can lead to.  The alleys were a similar story.

Pick up a copy – this endeavor is an interesting alternative to student loans and should prove to be an interesting experiment.


Pave Campaign

Posted in Uncategorized by seattlealleys on July 11, 2013

Hello everyone, recently I was accepted into the Master’s of Urban Design program at Harvard and will be moving to Boston in August. I recently was accepted as a campaign on the crowd-funding site, which is like Kickstarter – but for people pursuing education and other types of investment. The return rate is 7 percent of my salary over the decade following my graduation from Harvard. I have raised nearly $10,000 of my $30,000 goal and would like to present my campaign to you all via my alley network. Check out my campaign here Please message me if you can think of possible investors, or are personally interested. Thank you.

Stay tuned for thought on Italian urbanism coming next!

Amsterdam: lanes and canals

Posted in Uncategorized by seattlealleys on May 25, 2013

An excerpt from my journal during my first viist to Amsterdam last month:

Thus far, Amsterdam reminds me most of Kyoto, perhaps due to the jumble of condensed, narrow streets and thin reflective canals all walled in by tall, skinny tower-like buildings.  When in Japan they were wood-  they are stone here. Already, a sophisticated relationship to water is clear in the waterfront and canals and their many drawbridges.


This radial city is made up of a unique interwoven series of streets, alleys, and canals that intersect one another in a sort of sunrise pattern like grain.  The water’s presence even down a tiny lane is surprising and lends a certain rhythm to traversing the town.  Although, it is undoubtedly best to navigate these conditions by taking part in the swarm of bicyclists that are ubiquitous here.


The alleys are full of everything you’d expect them to be full of in Amsterdam – bars, coffee shops, and of course a very unique selection of storefronts in the red light district.  It is interesting to think about Amsterdam without the primary streets – if the radial main thoroughfares were compressed down to three meters like most alleys, the relationship of the alley ways complete with bicycle lane down the middle, and the numerous canals would create a more formalized Venetian quality.  I will post next about my experiences travelling through Italy for the first time last month.  I am contemplating packaging my travel journal together and publishing it as an addendum to TIght Urbanism in the coming year, as I found many interesting things in the realm of architecture and the city.  



Tight Urbanism at 2012 Seattle Design Festival

Posted in Uncategorized by seattlealleys on October 5, 2012

The Seattle Design Festival was an honor to take part in.  It was fantastic to see all the different design community members gathered in one place in the city, activating it, and attracting so much interest.  This type of pop-up urbanism is what this city, and many others need.  An event, while requiring planning, does not need the capital, bureaucratic process, and vision that a building needs and thus creates a unique type of community and urbanity that can build momentum for a neighborhood, block, or alley.

The pallet displays lived their life and served their purpose and were recycled after this exhibit, it’s fourth in the city after Belltown, Pioneer Square, and the International Distrixt.  The boards are still available and in fine condition if you have an alley party or community meeting you wish to use them at, please let me know.  Thank you to all who showed up at the Design Festival, and the friends who helped me put this all together.

Also, if you didnt’ catch the interview earlier this year, The Atlantic Cities blog featured a brief article on my work and views on alleys, check it out here.

Tight Urbanism: the book

Posted in Chicago, Detroit, History, Japan, Melbourne, San Francisco, Sydney by seattlealleys on July 24, 2011


Finally after a first round of edits, the book chronicling my travels, adventures, sketches, and photos from this year-long foray into alleyways is available at  Please email me if you have any questions.  You can purchase it from the link above!

Thank you for supporting my work.

- Daniel Toole

Mount Vernon Alleys visit

Posted in Mount Vernon by seattlealleys on July 24, 2011

After finding my blog nearly a year ago, the Mount Vernon  Downtown Association was kind enough to have me come talk to them today about my travels and take a look at their fine collection of alleys in the downtown.  Poised to become a great center of culture in the Skagit Valley, the downtown, like many cities planned around the turn of the century in the region has a strong main street with a lot of small mom and pop retail shops and a few civic buildings.  Mount Vernon has a slightly problematic relationship with the Skagit River that so beautifully winds through it.  The river tends to flood, warranting the use of a flood wall and in the hopefully near future, a brand new waterfront sea wall design complete with stormwater filtration, an esplanade, and a new setting for their already vibrant farmers’ market.

The alleys here are quite thin – similar to those in Japan and are fortunate to have great sun access because of the lack of many buildings over one or two storeys.  The soil condition is clearly a dynamic one with some buildings dipping and cracking due to the silty fill – and the alleys have their own unique topography due to this uneven settling.  There are many unique conditions, circumstances, and parties involved and excited that could create a brand new layer of experience for this small town and really transform its urban identity.

I would like to thank Frank Bettendorf and the Downtown Association for a lovely day and I can’t wait to see what happens in the beautiful alleys of Mount Vernon!

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Tight Urbanism in Canton Alley

Posted in International District, Pioneer Square by seattlealleys on July 17, 2011

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of presenting my work in the International District’s Jamfest. This was the first alley site to be visited by the Tight Urbanism exhibit.  For over a year now, the Wing Luke has been facilitating discussions regarding doing away with dumpsters in the historic Canton Alley and making it a model clean alley for the International District. The alleys in this neighborhood see an increible amount of dumping and food waste with the plethora of restaurants in the area. In addition to the latent problems, Canton alley posseses a very special history with it’s location between the two Kong Yick buildings. These buildings were built from funds pooled together by hundreds of individuals and families that reached the area during the turn of the century. Canton alley was not only a service alley like its’ other Seattle contemporaries, but actually housed a number of loft-style alley oriented apartments.  These large apartments were almost like tenements in that multiple families shared each apartment and some had businesses in storefronts on the alley.  These storefronts are still visible here and one of the apartments has been entirely refurbished to look like it would have at the turn of the century – you can organize a tour through the Wing Luke.  I am excited to see the dumpsters come out of Canton Alley and for it to become a unique space for the neighborhood.

I would like to thank my friends Cameron Colpitts and Teddy Toyama for helping me move the exhibit around this weekend – pallets are heavy.

Last First Thursday in Pioneer Square, Firehouse Alley also had a great party where we had Irish folk music, hula hoopers, and marshmallow roasting in the alley!  There was a great turn out and it is inspiring to think we started working on this alley a year ago and now it is seeing nearly 50-100 people come through every first thursday.  Join us at the next party on August 3rd!


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