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Re-Purposing Alleyways

Sep 16, 2011
Re-Purposing Alleyways

By Jordan Lewis, Intern, VIA Architecture

Last summer I had the opportunity to work on a project to activate a neglected alley in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood. While alleys tend to have a bad reputation and are generally not thought of as potential community assets, many cities and their residents have taken an active approach to transform these utility streets into spaces thriving with activity.

The goal of Seattle’s AlleyArt project is to re-energize a forgotten alleyway into a vibrant public space — providing space for local art installations, movie screenings, food vendors, as well as an event space to watch the World Cup Games.

Photo of World Cup Alley, 2010, Pioneer Square, credit: Jordan Lewis

In Melbourne Australia, ‘laneways’ have been successfully revitalized following a study by Gehl Architects and Planners in 1994. The city of Melbourne encourages and provides grants to local businesses and artists to enhance the character and diversity of these intimate city streets.

Photo of Melbourne Alley, Australia

In Fort Collins, Colorado the city has recently embarked on a downtown alley enhancement program. Plantings, outdoor lighting, murals, bike racks and even a piano encourage pedestrian foot traffic and biking.

Photo of Fort Collins, CO, credit: Lisa McShane

In San Francisco, the ‘Linden Living Alley’, has become a successful pilot project for the city to development a network of green streets, particularly in areas under-served by public parks.

Photo of Linden Alley, San Francisco, credit: Flickr – NeighborhoodParks

Although alleys take up a significant portion of space within our cities (streets and alleys combined take up around 30% of the city land) they are often neglected by residents and architects alike as many buildings turn their backs to alleys. By activating existing utility streets and designing buildings that are sensitive to the street level, alleys present great opportunities to create a more vibrant public realm, interweave green spaces and improve pedestrian connections.

If you live in Seattle check out the Alley Network Project website for events and ways to get involved:

For those of you in Vancouver check out Livable Laneways Vancouver for events:


“Seattle Integrated Alley Handbook: Activating Alleys for a Lively City,” Mary Fialko and Jennifer Hampton.

One Comment

  1. cool concept. The Nord Alley photos look like scenes one might encounter in Europe or Buenos Aires