Friday, December 6, 2013

The Value of Classifying the D.C. Alleys

As with many things in life, not all alleys have an equal potential for meaningful development to become a livable part of a growing city of laneways within a city of roads.

An alley for trash, rats and cats in that order.

The Historic Preservation Office alley survey project is an extremely important undertaking that will become increasingly valuable in the years ahead. Many small enclaves are being discovered along with hundreds of hidden little gems of buildings that once lived as shops, stables, and homes or led some other fascinating life. No doubt, in the course of doing this work, many losses through decay or destruction and unauthorized modifications will be discovered. D.C. alleys have mostly been ignored. The alley survey as our era’s snapshot will not only document what exists today but also help to protect otherwise defenseless properties tomorrow.

D.C. alleys are inhomogeneous. Some are narrow. Others are wide. Some are traditional “trash, services and parking” alleys. In some, there is almost no vestige of past human living because large condo and apartment complexes have usurped the entire outer and inner block spaces. 

Cady's Alley in Georgetown

Yet, some have been beautifully preserved, refined and integrated with 20th and 21st century architecture and flourish as thriving destinations. Others await rescue. The process of restoring or reclaiming potentially livable alleys will require well thought out triage to finely focus on areas with the greatest potential for salvage. There may only be a handful of alleys still worth the energy and resources. However, in a city where livable and affordable space is disappearing (as is land for new construction) exploring, documenting and protecting potentially habitable alleys is a wise investment for the future of D.C. and urban planning.

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