Thursday, September 08, 2005

Focus on Alleys

One of the best amenities of living in the City of St. Louis is the layout of our built environment, including having alleys running down the center of almost every city block.

Alleys are a second, semi-hidden world; a more private, intimate neighborhood space.

Over on the mayor's website, there's a feature about alleys, and a survey and discussion about some creative ways of building attractive, affordable, new urban-scale alley housing in the city.

Definitely something to consider when it comes time to replace our current teeny tiny garage....


Claire Nowak-Boyd said...

I loooove alley houses, and hope to save a few in my lifetime. There are some ailing alley houses near the Nord St. Louis Turn Verein that make my heart skip a beat.

I hope this recent post means Slay is willing to consider the merits of the "wow, isn't this a wonderfully dense neighborhood!" alley house. Many of the older cities that have them, notably Baltimore, are making a point of demolishing them. I know that very small houses are not for everyone, but still, uh, don't these places have poor people? Hearing people speak against alley houses reminds me of when I heard Rollin Stanley complain that shotgun homes have no resale value.... All I can say is tell that to all the poor families on my block who can't afford anything else. And even people with more money have done nice things of them. One of my neighbors who is artistically inclined has turned her shotgun house into a cute loft-style space that looks plucked from Downtown.

Alley houses can also be a tool for people who need (or think that they need) a lot of space. One couple I know who own a large storefront and an alley house in Hyde Park let their dogs live in the yet-to-be-rehabbed alley house so that they can have their house more to themselves. A family I recently met in Old North just rebuilt their alley house; it will be their office space when it's finished, and they envision using it as space for their kids as the kids get older.

Speaking of alleys in the short term, though, I'm just waiting for the Department of Forestry to respond to my Citizens' Service Bureau call and get all of those *$()#@ tree branches out of the alley to reduce criminal activity along my daily walk-to-work route.... I do love what alleys can be, but I can't forget what they respresent in my daily life right now.

Michael Allen said...

Alley houses don't necessarily have to be limited to 1,000s.f. On the near northside, there are still many alley houses that are as large as the houses that face the street front of their lots. This density is inspiring and creates lots of vitality. I would love to see any new alley houses and other odd small-space dwellings, but I would also be excited by the development of full-sized alley buildings.

Lots with both street and alley houses won't be very conducive to multiple-vehicle households, though, so an educational effort will be needed to coax folks back to the alleys. People will have to leave behind their extra cars and sens eof entitlement to extreme privacy to move into new spaces.

Of course, despite anyone's enthusiasm alley houses are still disappearing at a rapid rate on the near northside. I saw one two-and-a-half story alley house wrecked in St. Louis Place two weeks ago. Another one fell in Hyde Park last month. Few owners see value in preserving them, and will need considerable incentive (including some plan for parking) to take the steps needed to rehab these wonderful buildings.

Documenting the alley houses would make a great survey project and, with political support, could be the basis for a National Register scattered-site district nomination.