The American Alley, Part 1: A Hidden Resource

Mews Houses

In this series of articles, I will attempt to lay out a model for the incremental infill development of existing American towns and cities, at a human scale and in a spatially defined manner. This model is the development of the inner block. Inside traditional urban blocks are many types of public, semi-public, and private spaces fronted and formed by buildings and walls. That’s the inner block, and it’s perhaps best recognized in the form of your basic courtyard. This is perhaps the only place in many American towns and cities today that will allow the development of pedestrian-scaled urban spaces—most easily seen along the residential alleyway.

Thomas Dougherty


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1 Comment

  1. Russ Fletcher on August 16, 2021 at 5:06 pm

    I lived in London in the 80’s in Chelsea – Central London There were barns built in the 1700’s in the cobblestone alleys behind the main houses that had been used for horses and carriages. When motor vehicles were introduced the barns were no longer needed and many were converted to “Mews houses” . These became some of the most valuable property in England and are cherished today for their character, quiet atmosphere and community.

    I always try to ask everyone who’s involved in city planning, transportation and especially housing if they’ve taken an “alley inventory”. This is where everyone who owns a garage on an alley is asked if they would consider converting it to a tiny home if there was better public transportation or if they were able to subscribe to an autonomous vehicle service (which is coming much sooner than many believe) so they didn’t have to own a car. The responses are truly enlightening and usually very enthusiastic. Time will tell but if every community was to seed this idea to all garage owners, we could see a huge benefit on so many levels as we see the end of “Carcatecture”. Alleys could be improved to become more desirable and valuable to address the housing shortage and unnecessary sprawl could be averted.

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