Public right-of-way in Seattle is prescriptive out of necessity. Sidewalks, bike paths, sharrows, parking, and roads all compete for space in Seattle. We follow standards of safety and ease when making our streets. But, what about our alleys? Alleys are public right-of-way, but not often taken into consideration when planning traffic.
In Seattle, alleys were designed into most of the core neighborhoods to provide light and air, as a service corridor, and to stop the spread of fire. Today alleys often provide access to underground parking, and are still places for services. They hold trash and recycling. They are where moving trucks get parked, loading and unloading happens, and where city services are often accessed.
Modern developers feel that the alleys, which run the long way in city blocks, are detrimental to the ideal floorplate of Class-A Office space. Alley vacations are coming before the Seattle Design Commission at a rate of 8 per year.
I don’t believe these alleys so disposable. They are public space, and they are human-scale and walkable. Spaces off alleys offer an opportunity for lower-income rent spaces. Alleys in Melbourne have been revitalized to create a maze-like network of shops, cafes, and bars that give people an invitation to explore. Alleys in Chicago have been retrofitted with green infrastructure as a way to manage water runoff.
The Alley Network Project in Pioneer Square has spent the last three years cleaning up their alley, Nord Alley, hosting events, and encouraging building owners and managers to re-open small spaces for rent off alleys.
With alleys not only in Pioneer Square, but the International District, First Hill, Capitol Hill, Ballard, South Lake Union, Queen Anne, and more, how should we start to think about our alleys? You could start by giving yours a name!