How to turn alleys into child-friendly gardens


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Don’t miss this story about how neighborhoods are being cleaned up and communities created by the simple but bureaucratically challenging act of putting gates at the end of alleyways.  And you can tell from photos like this that plants – potted or spilling over fences – are the most visible sign of the transformation.  Urban gardening to the max!

The story’s set in Baltimore, where there are 91 alley-gating projects in the works, and the nonprofit behind them wants to take the idea nationwide.
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  1. mixed feelings about this one. i live in a neighborhood with lots of alleys, and they are an important right of way for me. much easier to navigate the hood with dog and stroller when you don’t worry about traffic.

    in baltimore, they have chosen safety and private rights over access and public rights. i can see making that choice in that city. not mine though.

  2. I have to agree with the comment above. I think cities would be better served if cleaning up vacant lots and making parks out of them would be better. In the city I live in alleys are used for trash removal and access to garages.

  3. Just a note about how this works, according to the article. All the homeowners have keys for accessing the alley, and the trash pick-up people have a universal key so they can still use them.

  4. I like walking my neighborhood’s alleys. More than a few neighbors (myself included) have gardens along the alleyway. But I live in a neighborhood without such issues, very low crime.

    As a bonus, our neighborhood has tons of sidewalks along the street in front of everyone’s homes. Even without alleys for walking we have sidewalks. I’ve noticed a trend in sidewalk use over the years. Growing up as a child my parents had a rule that we had to stay out of the street when walking around the neighborhood I grew up in. IT seems like an ever increasing number of people avoid sidewalks for walking among traffic on the street. I believe it is because so many suburbs were built with extrawide streets and no sidewalks, so many people are used to, and expect the street to be welcomed, walking in the street.

    If you are going to shut off an alley, I’d hope there were sidewalks through the neighborhood.

    Okay, ‘nuf with the sidewalk tangent. 😀 Hadn’t read the article yet, but it seems like this movement is philosophically part of (or at least a near fork from) the very successful “broken windows” strategy for crime deterrence. And an attractive one at that.

  5. what an interesting article. alleys in my town are for trash removal and back yard access, but I would be all over the gated alleys if I lived in a city with crime & alleys like those depicted in the photos. When you have to have cinderblock walls around your backyard or clean up used condoms before your kids can play in back, I say bring on the gates.

  6. the more i think of it, the more privatizing public right of ways for the enjoyment of a select group of homeowners rubs me the wrong way.

    essentially, they are expending resources creating private gated communities in the heart of a city struggling with its public spaces. i think this will only exacerbate the city’s problems in the long run.

  7. I’m torn.

    One one hand, I understand wanting to protect one’s property and family from crime and grime.

    On the other, my favorite part of visiting some cities is walking down the alleyways. If Charleston, SC, started closing its alleys the city would lose half its charm.

    I guess that each case is different–what works in Baltimore won’t necessarily work somewhere else. It depends on how the houses and gardens and alleys are designed and how they are used. I hope that cities and neighbors don’t jump at this new idea without giving it considerable thought.

  8. Well it sounds like where Mayo lives that something had to be done its always easy to say no when its not your life or family that’s involved if I had to go clean up used condoms daily the gates would be coming up too!

  9. I have to agree also that it depends on your city. Like others have stated, if I need to pick up condoms before my children can play I would want gates. If I felt like it was a safety issue to go in my backyard at night, again gates it would be. I agree that it is unfortunate that it needs to be done, but unless you get 24 hour police protection to clean up the problem gates seem like a good answer.

  10. If this trend becomes widespread, it will be interesting to see how it affects where the criminals and other low-lifes who use to blight the alleyways migrate to (not to mention the rats and other vermin). The alleyways look lovely and inviting. I think it’s a good trend overall; when neighborhoods become respites where people get to know one another, and care for their surroundings, perhaps their children will be less likely to be drawn into destructive behaviors and relationships. That can only be good for the future. And this caring might eventually extend to the house fronts and streets, too.

  11. In the original article, they talk about taking down fences. These people must not have dogs or chickens.

  12. When alleys get abandoned here, the public owned property is divied down the middle and the land is surveyed and added to the property owners adjacent. No shared space. This has to be done by request to the governing body, all neighbors have to agree, and the property owners pay for the surveying and legal work. I love alleys. Means another 10-15 feet between me and my neighbor behind me. No yards running together. My garbage cans are in the back, not on the main road. The power lines run along the alley. But as many posted above, I live in a small town with a low crime rate.

  13. Alley-play is a wonderful memory from my Baltimore childhood. I did not live downtown, but the alleys were very different from the well groomed Omstead-inspired landscape where I lived. The cement was cracked, the dogs got into the garbage, rats were occasionally seen. We found a way to climb up onto some roofs and jump for a few rooftop distances. My friend stepped on a nail and hobbled home. My brother and friends caught hell for shooting out the shoemaker’s window with a bbgun. Best of all was the the back of the cleaners, where the steam poured out a pipe from the pressing machines. I think I learned “one potato, two potato” in an alley.
    How wonderful to be out of eyesight and earshot of the adults. But then, in the 50’s we could all be out of eye and hearing of our parents so much more easily.
    I just want to give another perspective to the ungated, well used alleyway of yesteryear.

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