New Back Alleys
by Linda Baker
The urban alley was once a ubiquitous part of the American landscape. Now many of these alleyways have fallen into disrepair or — along with the milkmen who frequented them — disappeared altogether. Over the past few years, however, this unique streetscape has staged something of a comeback.
The renewed alley trend is fueled by the expansion of "new urbanism," a design movement that rejects the car-centered, suburban sprawl of the past 50 years by promoting 19th century town planning principles. Such mixed-use communities are designed to be walkable, diverse, and visually integrated.
Joyce Maib Yakas, a real estate sales manager in Hillsboro, Oregon, describes growing up in a Seattle building that backed onto an alley. She recalls: "I learned how to ride a bike there. I played there all the time." Fifty years later, Yakas is once again an alley dweller — this time in Orenco Station, Portland Oregon's nationally recognized new-urbanist development.
Yakas and her husband live in a house that backs onto one of the seven-year-old development's signature short alleys. Shielded by a stand of bamboo, the side of the house faces the street. A front courtyard is bisected by a sidewalk, with two houses on either side.
"The whole idea behind Orenco was to go back to what we knew earlier in the history of housing — to put the garages in the back with alley access," said Yakas. Though not suburban by upbringing, she felt that Orenco clicked for her because it reminded her of urban neighborhoods she had lived in. "The alley was a big part of that," she emphasized. >>>
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A residential alley in Seattle's Montlake neighborhood doubles as playground, garden, and service access.
Photo: David Baker
Alleyways in Orenco Station, Hillsboro Oregon have urban qualities but lack the social vitality historically provided by playing children.
Photo: Linda Baker
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