We were outside in our alley last week, and I couldn’t help but think how special it is to have such a unique space right behind our home.
Chances are if you’ve spent any time in Milwaukee or Chicago, you’ve walked, played, or even lived on an alley.
Alleys are important here in greater Milwaukee. They build community, create new senses of space, interweave neighbors, and generate places for design, art, and play.
In Milwaukee, we’ve even taken a city alley and turned it into an art gallery. Check out Black Cat Alley on your trip to the city’s East Side.
In the 19th century, many cities used alleys to hide stuff like barns, horses, and carriages. Today, after a 20th-century decline, alleys are fairly common — especially as I noted here in the Midwest.
We use alleys to shelter garages, garbage cans, cable and telephone poles and equipment, and recycling dumpsters. They work and function well — and, for people like us who live on an alley — the elimination of driveways saves shoveling time in the winter.
But, the truly great thing about alleys — is community. Ours is a dead-end alley, so we’ve painted a basketball court, and kids bike and play endlessly without the fear of fast cars racing by.
The neighbors have built patios and mini decks, and since all of the garages face the alley, you see people more often making the community stronger and forcing interactions.
Too often alleys are portrayed as “dark” and “dirty.” Sure, some can be — and if you see one that’s not up to par — find a way to clean it up, paint it, and even activate it. But, in the meantime — celebrate the special nature of alleys — they’re pretty cool and I’m thankful for ours.