Journal of Housing and the Built Environment

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 145-171

First online:

The case for residential back-alleys: A north American perspective

  • Michael David MartinAffiliated withDepartment of Landscape Architecture, Iowa State University

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This article addresses the issue of accessduplication within North Americanneighborhoods. The author compares fiveresidential development models with distinctiveaccess patterns: one, the ubiquitous postwarsuburban “street-no-alley” neighborhood; two,the “open-back” neighborhood which providespedestrian access beyond rear property lines;three, the Radburn-style “open-front”configuration with vehicular access providedonly at the rear side of residences;four, the traditional “street-and-alley”neighborhood with detached houses; and five,the “street-and-alley” form with attached homesand higher residential densities. The author'scase study method seeks to understand andreveal the “behavioral landscape”. What are thestreets, alleys or pedestrian open spaces beingused for – which activities occur in whichplaces? How do residents perceive these spaces?The author maintains that in the contemporaryera, the street or alley/lane alone ishard-pressed to stage all the social-space andservice functions within a residentialcommunity. However, we might look to bothtraditional “alley-and-street” communities andthe “alley-no-street” example to gain anunderstanding of just how vital the diverselandscape of back-side connection among homescan be in supporting outdoor community sociallife. Finally, the case study of thehigher-density example suggests that here,block-scale community life is as muchstreet-based as it is alley-based, and theauthor's conclusion is that the greater densitymakes having both – street and alley – all the more important. When densities reach acritical mass, it becomes clear that accessduplication enhances both the range of residentchoices as well as the diversity of socialsettings available to residents.

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