Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Stabilizing Businesses in the Alley Part II

The perimeter of a city block puts its best face forward and generally remains with a preserved and unchanging façade for decades. This is the face the world sees every day. In contrast, the cores of city blocks are in a continuous state of change and evolution. Their inhabitants reflect a wide spectrum of lives and needs over the years. There is a somewhat romantic ebb and flow to the nature of alleys that is so easily destroyed by government fiat and misguided urban planners. The cradles of creativity were rocked in many small alley dwellings and industrial lofts in DC and NY and elsewhere. Thankfully this fact and the recognition of the utilitarian value of alley space are slowly becoming recognized.

 St. Martins Lane stables turned into offices, 
homes and restaurants in Washington D.C. 
 “By utilizing the physical layout of the alley for “defensible space” and by manipulating the fears of “outsiders” toward the alley, alley residents were able to lay claim to control over their neighborhood, thus establishing a sense of sovereignty and power as well as security. This control over their own “turf” meant that alley dwellers were able to establish social control over their own community, and maintain the values and world view of that community.” (James Borchert from Alley Life in Washington)

“To skulk through an American alley is to step backward in time, downward on the social ladder and quickly to confront the world of trash collectors, garbage-pickers, weekend car mechanics and children. Refugees, all of them, from the wide-open world of the big street Out Front.

   Backstaged, the alley is the outback world of the unmentionable, if not the unwanted, the displaced of modern society. A few glaring exceptions – unpaved tracklets through old bucolic suburbs, or posh little stashes of elegant townhouses along refurbished alleys in Georgetown, D.C. and other Early American enclaves – silhouette themselves against a dark and vast majority. Out of sight, out of mind, the American residential alley has been the academic, geographic and social outcast of the built environment for at least a half-century.” (From Alleys a Hidden Resource by Grady Clay 1978)