Since a broken set of fingers has recently delayed my drawing proposals, I have started gathering written material on alleys. Thus far the resources have been scant, particularly in addressing modern uses. My favorite is a little book I had cone across quotes from, called Alleys: A Hidden Resource by the Louisville urbanist, Grady Clay. The book was published in 1978 with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. It’s a small book highlighting a brief history of the alleys’ role in the culture of the American city with a specific focus on five alleys in Louisville. These five alleys were selected for their prototypical conditions and locations around the city. Five studies were done with various organisations in the five communities to determine how to make the alleys better places to serve present and future adjacent uses while preserving their character. It’s an incredible precedent for anyone studying how to revitalize alleys in an American city as it highlights the political processes of community meetings and federal and municipal actions necessary to seeing this type of study through. It is also fascinating to look at the five examples on Google street view to see what changes have taken place since the study was done thirty years ago.
“…the quick jump in national automobile ownership – from 2,490,932 in 1915 to 9,239,161 in 1925 – meant that alleys were no longer required as access for horses, barns, and stables with their manure smells and animal noises…alleys were out.”
I would like to thank my office, Perkins+Will, for their generosity in providing an additional $1000 to expand my study area to Chicago and San Francisco. I will be visiting these locations between July and August to document what’s going on in their alleys.
Perkins+will is celebrating their 75th anniversary this year and plans to launch a brand new site in early July. The innovation incubator grant is a new program set up by the national leadership institute to facilitate the endeavors and pursuits of individuals within the office striving to better the built environment. The alley project was one of about twenty to receive funding in this first round.
One of the most interesting aspects of cities is their texture -culturally and physically. I have begun to notice tiny places throughout the alleys and the city in general where the natural world has crept up, on, and into our paths and begun another series of layers over our existence. The edge of urbanity blurs at these points of reclamation.
One of my recent favorite instances if this can be found halfway down a pioneer square alley where flowering weeds have found their way into a wall and onto a window sill. This should serve as a model for our continual development of cities. We should allow, assist, and design for new ways that we can coexist with ecological forces so often pushed behind increased returns on investments, efficiencies, etc. Photo credit goes to Karann MacNealy on the Jane’s walk a couple weekends ago.
You can check out this simple welding project that is assisting in this reclamation process off University between 1st and 2nd. It contains some sedums often used for green roofs and continues to flourish. I encourage everyone to plant something in between bricks, under a downspout, on a window sill, or anywhere that will benefit an alley near you. What is now considered a lifeless byproduct of urban efficiency can now be a place for environmental benefit and growth.
Thank you everyone for coming! It was awesome to see more than one other person, pigeon, or rat walking around in there this weekend! Our walk lasted for two hours and brought some interesting things to light. We moved from the Moore all the way to Maynard and Canton Alleys where we got to go in and speak with the owner of Sun May, who gave us a brief history lesson on the two alleys. Apparently they were live/work and the first two major blocks in the area. This could explain their having commercial space on three sides instead of just two.
There were many great questions asked and a lot of new things discovered. I would like to thank Lisa Quinn of Feet First and Todd Vogel of the International Sustainability Institute for opening their office n on a weekend to talk about their great space and initiatives. I would encourage everyone who attended the tour to tell their friends to walk through the alleys, imagine what they could be, plant things, and keep an eye on them. The city needs to look at them as pedestrian assets more and more until they are capable of turning them into just that. There is a lot of character, potential, and history within these spaces – we only need to bring them to the attention of everyone. Thanks to Heidi Oien for giving me the idea to do this and thanks to everyone who came out. Thanks also to Karann MacNealy, Animish Kudalkar, and Max Foley for taking photos along the way. I will be posting information shortly on a volunteer group that is gathering to paint and clean Maynard and Canton alleys in hopes that they can be returned to a great commercial and pedestrian area – so stay tuned.
Also, now on flickr – check out photos of our walk along with Jane’s walks across the U.S. and Canada! http://www.flickr.com/groups/janeswalk2010/pool/