Alleys of Seattle


Daniel Toole  is an architect and urban designer. He is currently finishing a Master’s of Urban Design at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and is finishing a sabbatical year in Berlin on a German federal research grant.  He is a graduate of the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and has studied and worked in Oregon, Washington, New York, Paris, Budapest, and Berlin.

This blog serves as a document of his travels around the world with an eye focused on architecture and urbanism relating to alleyways, laneways, and small urban spaces of all kinds.  Initial funding was made possible by the AIA Seattle Emerging Professionals Travel Fellowship, and subsequently other grants and fellowships.

Please follow this link to Daniel’s architecture and urban design practice.


17 Responses

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  1. Tom Pantaleoni said, on May 14, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    Hi Daniel,
    I have been listening to programs on the radio and seeing websites that speak about renewing alleys. I am inspired by this idea. Todd Vogel is somebody who has been working on his alley. I would like to start working on the alley behind my business. This is between Yesler and Washington, 1st and Alaskan Way. Would like to do something that makes the alley more walkable – perhaps a bunch of climbing plants, a green pavement, lights that change the night time ambience of the alley, hanging art work between the set of buildings that take advantage of the wind and the rain. Could you give me some advice on where to start this process?

  2. seattlealleys said, on May 14, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    Tom, this is great to hear! Todd’s space is a model for this type of thinking. He has come up with a series of art cases with the other adjacent property owners and gathered up some money, then applied for a neighborhood matching grant. There is a process underway right now for some more artwork to be added to the Nord Alley as well as garbage bag holders I believe. The idea of environmentally responsive art and a new permeable pavement is excellent and could create a fantastic space for the neighborhood.
    Email me at and I’d be happy to meet with you in your alley and come up with some ideas on how to move your vision along.


  3. Karrie Kohlhaas said, on July 8, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Hey Daniel, just happily came across your website tonight. I have been heading up an alley transformation in Delridge. It was pretty horrible before–illegal dumping, bed frames, toilets, TVs, dressers, you name it, plus layers and layers of blackberries and rubbish beneath. We’ve rallied the neighbors and I’ve gotten the city as involved as I can (so far). Our goal is to transform this alley from a nasty zone (we found a purse full of syringes for example) into a safe, beautiful role model alley for what other people can do who are tired of anti-community behavior in their own alleys. I’d love to talk with you sometime. Really enjoyed checking out your blog! Drop me a line when you get a chance. We’ll be working on this for quite a while, so whenever you are free.

  4. Karrie Kohlhaas said, on July 8, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    Woops, I meant to include these links so you can check it out…
    Here is some info
    and here

    I love that your blog is focused on alleys!

  5. David Salter said, on January 12, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Another resource that you might find of value is Borchert’s “Alley Life in Washington” which is still available and well written. Other resources are Neglected Neighbors by Weller 1909 (which you can download for free through google books) The John C Winston Company, The Mews of London by Rosen 1982 – Webb and Bower and The Secret City by Green 1967 – Princeton University Press

    Good for you for taking on alley avocation. In my opinion, alleys have been greatly and sadly overlooked by Urban Planners today who are still using yesterday’s metrics of alley uses for tomorrow’s planning.

    • seattlealleys said, on January 12, 2011 at 4:44 pm

      David, thanks for your post. I have come across a couple of those in my research – I saw you enjoyed Grady Clay’s little alley book as well. It looks like you have some very interesting alleys where you live – as well as beautiful conversions.

      Alleys are an inherent residue of America’s planning history. They need to be re-evaluated in their current state, reprogrammed, and enjoyed by the city as a new form of reclaimed public space. It looks like I should make a trip to see D.C.’s alleys and mews!

      • David Salter said, on January 12, 2011 at 8:51 pm

        Daniel, you are right on target about the idea of re-evaluation. Helping to rewrite city codes that are outdated and that adversely affect the ability to live in alleys today is a major key to being able to have cities create “a new form of reclaimed public space” as you say. Changing the city planning’s concepts of alley use is not easy, even when examples of success stories in other cities in the US and Europe are presented and explained. Developer money trumps long term sensibilities almost every time!

  6. Robert Fabian said, on February 16, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Prompted by the interview in Alantic Cities, I’ll add another pro-alley argument.

    In Toronto we have a “special” challenge. Downtown along the main pedestrial and subway corridor there is intense developer interest. Our “main street” is called Yonge Street. It was the first street in Ontario and is the longest street in the world. Downtown Yonge Street is under active development. I live just off downtown Yonge Street and there’s a 78 storey mixed use bulding going up less than 1 km south and a 69 storey mixed use building going up less than 1 km north. In between, there are something like a dozen tower projects, under development, approved, proposed, or under discussion. The impact on retail along Yonge Street will be dramatic. Our alleys – called laneways here – may provide attractive commercial relief. Many of the “interesting” shops could not pay the kind of rent that will be demanded in new developments. Our laneways can provide the alternative space that the “interesting” shops require.

    Robert Fabian, Toronto

    Historical End Note: Our laneways go back to the beginning of the city and seem to have been developed to support service access.

    • seattlealleys said, on February 16, 2012 at 7:16 pm


      I encourage you to bring this up in any type of community/design review meeting with the developers working on these projects. Just from a cursory glance via Google Streets, you have some fantastic alleys with a lot of potential. With your cold climate, you could even benefit from fold-out restaraunts/bars in the alleys with overhead space heaters during the cold months to activate spots like O’Keefe Lane.

      I would definitely try to get some of your community together and interested in a plan before development takes over and you lose those great opportunities! I would love to assist in helping with a framework plan for your alleys if help is needed – Sydney, Australia completed something similar last year and I can put you in touch with the file if you’d like.



  7. Robert Fabian said, on February 16, 2012 at 10:03 pm


    Thanks for your kind offer. I’ll know more after this evening’s meeting. City Planning is to present their thinking about this area of downtown. Informally, the idea of using the laneways in this way has received positive response. Tonight is the first public presentation of their ideas. It’s really the next step in a public consultation process that began several months ago. I’ll be back after the meeting.

    Thanks again.

    Bob Fabian

  8. Robert Fabian said, on February 17, 2012 at 3:32 am


    We had our meeting and got to see a few dozen large drawings of our area of downtown Toronto. The City Planners have been busy. They recognized the potential importance of our laneways, but did not include them in this round of community discussions. I mentioned that we had been in electronic communication. And the question I got back was, “Any chance we could convince him to visit?” I’m clearly not authorized to offer anything, but I did feel it made sense to ask if you might be willing to visit and comment.


    Bob Fabian

    • seattlealleys said, on February 17, 2012 at 8:34 am

      Bob, I would be delighted to visit Toronto and have actually wanted to for some time. I would be glad to come do a walk-through and presentation of my findings globally and some of the activities alleys in this region are doing to develop into important civic spaces.

      We can discuss further via email.

      Glad to hear that your city is handling development and your community somewhat transparently – this sounds like a very rich opportunity.


  9. Michael O'Shea said, on February 17, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    Hey Daniel,

    Great seeing the work you’re doing around alleys, which are important, often neglected urban spaces that could be sites for any number of positive activities and uses. A contact at University of Toronto directed me to your blog, which I found fascinating. I’m actually doing a green alley project right now in Montréal right now, and I have a blog too! Check it out here:

    Keep it up,

    • seattlealleys said, on February 18, 2012 at 12:06 am

      Michael, congratulations on your Fulbright! It looks like you have a great project ahead of you. Do you have a copy of the design to share? it’s interesting to see what different cities are doing. Please keep me posted and I will add your site to the blogroll on here.



  10. Maddie Beeders said, on March 27, 2012 at 6:24 pm


    I am a student studying at the Urban Design at the University of Washington. I am currently organizing an alley art walk party (inspired by the events in Nord Alley organized by ISI) and was wondering if you would be available to chat via email or in person about your experiences with alley events.

    You can contact me at the email provided below.

    Thank you.


    Maddie Beeders

  11. Clare said, on April 29, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    Hi Daniel-
    Could I get a copy of your film?
    I’m researching alley histories and possibilities in L.A.- and struggling to find appropriate resources. I’m super excited to find your project- also have done research on alleys in D.C. and really interested in the concept.
    Thanks so much!

    • seattlealleys said, on March 28, 2014 at 3:12 pm

      Hi Clare, I just received your message off my blog. Are you still doing alley research?

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