Journal of Housing and the Built Environment

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 145–171 | Cite as

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

  • Michael David Martin


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.

alleys backyards front yards Illinois landscape neighborhoods new urbanism Pullman subdivisions suburbia Wildwood Park Winnipeg 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Beasley, E. (1997) The Alleys and Back-buildings of Galveston: An Architectural and Social History, Rice University Press, Houston, Texas.Google Scholar
  2. Bookout, L.W. (1992) Neotraditional town planning: cars, pedestrians, and transit, Urban Land, Feb., 15–20.Google Scholar
  3. Calthorpe, P. (1993) The Next American Metropolis, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.Google Scholar
  4. Christie, A. (1964) Radburn reconsidered, Connection No. 7, Harvard School of Design.Google Scholar
  5. Clay, G. (1978) Alleys: A Hidden Resource, Grady Clay and Company, Louisville, Kentucky.Google Scholar
  6. Duany, A., Plater-Zyberk, E. and Speck, J. (2000) Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, North Point Press, New York.Google Scholar
  7. Doty, Mrs. D. (1893) The Town of Pullman, Illustrated: Its Growth with Brief Accounts of Its Industries. T.P. Struhsacker, Pullman, Illinois (reprinted in 1974 by the Pullman Civic Organization, and in 1991 by the Historic Pullman Foundation).Google Scholar
  8. Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corporation (1988) J.B. Jackson and the Love of Everyday Places (Video, VHS).Google Scholar
  9. Fulton, W. (1997) The New Urbanism: Hope or Hype for American Communities?: The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Cambridge, Massachusetts.Google Scholar
  10. Girling, C. and Helphand, K. (1994) Yard Street Park, John Wiley and Sons Inc., New York.Google Scholar
  11. Goffman, E. (1991) Dramaturgical theory. In: The Structure of Sociological Theory, fifth edition (Ed, Turner, J.C.), Wadsworth Publishing Co, Belmont, California.Google Scholar
  12. Hall, P. (1988) Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century, Blackwell, Oxford.Google Scholar
  13. Helphand, K. (1995) The American (Drive)way (Script of presentation given at the University of Kentucky).Google Scholar
  14. Jacobs, J. (1961) The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Random House, New York.Google Scholar
  15. Jarvis, F.D. (1993) Site Planning and Community Design for Great Neighborhoods, Home Builder Press, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  16. Kay, J.H. (1997) Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back, University of California Press, Berkeley, California.Google Scholar
  17. Kostof, S. (1992) The City Assembled, Thames and Hudson Ltd., London.Google Scholar
  18. Kunstler, J.H. (1993) The Geography of Nowhere, Simon & Schuster, New York.Google Scholar
  19. Langdon, P. (1994) A Better Place to Live, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, Massachusetts.Google Scholar
  20. Leavitt, F. (1981) Pullman: Portrait of a Landmark Community, Historic Pullman Foundation, Chicago, Illinois.Google Scholar
  21. Lynch, K. (1990) Wasting Away, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco.Google Scholar
  22. Martin, M.D. (1996) Back-alley as community landscape, Landscape Journal, 15, 138–153.Google Scholar
  23. Martin, M.D. (2000) Endangered landscapes: residential alley transformations, The APT Bulletin: The Journal of Preservation Technology, 31, 39–46.Google Scholar
  24. Morris, A.E.J. (1993) The History of Urban Form Before the Industrial Revolutions, John Wiley & Sons, New York.Google Scholar
  25. Portland Historical Landmarks Commission (1990) Ladd's Addition Conservation District Guidelines, Bureau of Planning, Portland, Oregon.Google Scholar
  26. Reps, J. (1965) The Making of Urban America. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  27. Schaffer, D. (1982) Garden Cities for America: The Radburn Experience, Temple University Press, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  28. Southworth, M. and Ben-Joseph, E. (1996) Streets and the Shaping of Towns and Cities, McGraw-Hill, New York.Google Scholar
  29. Stein, C. (1956) Toward New Towns for America, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.Google Scholar
  30. Sullivan, J. (1980) Back Alley Neighborhood: Kampung as Urban Community in Yogyakarta, Working Papers, Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Melbourne, Australia.Google Scholar
  31. Tennenbaum, R. (1996) Creating a New City: Columbia, Maryland, Perry Publishing, Columbia, Maryland.Google Scholar
  32. Unwin, R. (1936) Single family dwellings, their design, and appropriate site planning, Transcript from lecture at Columbia University, November 19, 1936.Google Scholar
  33. Warrick, B. and Toni A. (1998) Changing consumer preferences. In: Trends and Innovations in Master-Planned Communities (Eds, Schmitz, A. and Bookout, L.W.), The Urban Land Institute, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  34. Wright, H.N. (1971) Radburn revisited, Architectural Forum, 135, 52–57.Google Scholar
  35. Yeomans, A.B. (1916) City Residential Land Development, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael David Martin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Landscape ArchitectureIowa State UniversityAmes

Personalised recommendations