I now live in a community where alleyways are quite prevalent. By the way, I think the term alleyway sounds a bit more quaint than plain old alley, so I’m choosing to add the “way” in this post.
The community I grew up in, and eventually settled in during most of my adult life, wasn’t prolific when it came to alleyways. You could find a few places in the downtown area, the more historical area, where an alleyway might pop up. I was a kid then and found no pleasure in what a person might discover in these backdoor places. The only thing an alleyway did for me back then was to provide a shortcut on my way home from school.
Alison, the youngest daughter, now lives in a historic neighborhood that is full of alleyways. Like the ones I remember from my youth, hers are gravel lined, very rutted and overgrown with weeds. I think they serve her neighbors as nothing more than a place to put garbage cans, or entice wandering animals looking for a free handout. Also, unfortunately, when you Google alleyway for her specific location what pops up are any number of news stories that highlight crime and death and bodies found.
Cara, the oldest daughter, lives in a planned community. This one has traditional homes with drive-up front garages and full backyards. It also has the modern version of the alleyway. I think of this version as the cram-as-many-homes-as-you-can-into-the-smallest-available-space type of community. Their alleyways are really more of one long, U-shaped interconnected driveway that leads to each homes rear garage. When you Google her community, they don’t show these blocks in the gallery of photos. I was sitting on her patio the other day, looking out at her fence.
Yes, I have time to ponder these sorts of things on occasion…
Every home on her “block” is surrounded in the back by a fence. It lines both sides of the home, starting with the front edge, runs all the way around to each side of the driveway and on one side actually comes up and borders the backyard. The alleyway is literally a paved asphalt ribbon that leads starkly to each home, running just inches from each fence.
Why am I sharing these details you might wonder. Or why should you care…
You really don’t have to care I suppose, but it struck me that one of the major ideas behind these planned communities is to create a sense of, well- community. It seems rather ironic that planners then go ahead, cram houses together with just a few feet between each other, and then surround them with these tall, privacy fences that do nothing to encourage community at all. They form a barrier. They lock the inhabitants into their own world and, to me anyway, signal quite clearly that other folks probably shouldn’t come across the line.
The fronts of these homes all have porches of some sort, and the general idea is to gather there, or as many do routinely, in the streets- at least from what I’ve noticed. I come away from this neighborhood sometimes with a sense that it’s okay to be visible on the surface, but encouraging real life interaction means breaking through some heavy and formidable walls that surround each home.
So, the point of this post, as I seem to have ventured off into some sociological impressions, is that I want to learn more about the alleyways that now make up my new community. Most of the homes around me have front porches. I see people on them in the evenings as I walk. I see quite a bit of open yard space, but I wonder what is behind the facade.
Do these new alleyways fit the model of dark, crime ridden, clandestine places?
Are they simply pathways for the local garbage haulers and tomcats? Byways to others detritus and secrets and leftovers…
Can I learn anything from these alleyways, about the people living in front of them, or will I find fences and barriers that allow for the world to see only what these people want.
In part 2, I want to share with you some of what I find in pictures… Stay tuned.