Journal of Housing and the Built Environment

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 145–171

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

  • Michael David Martin

DOI: 10.1023/A:1015692824140

Cite this article as:
Martin, M.D. Journal of Housing and the Built Environment (2002) 17: 145. doi:10.1023/A:1015692824140


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 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

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

Personalised recommendations