February 14, 2014

One of my favourite things I miss from Australian cities are laneways. Typical Australian streets, like typical American streets, are wide.

The typical streets in my hometown of Adelaide, South Australia range from wide - like Rundle Street;

To extremely wide - like Grenfell Street;

Walking around these large blocks is tedious, so when trying to get between destinations, you would typically try to find any shortcut that would allow you to cut through these large blocks. Thankfully, most cities have have small, narrow streets that cut right throught the block. We tend to call them 'laneways'. Adelaide has a few of them.

Here is James Place - I use to come to a newsagency along here to buy my Adelaide Metro tickets, and it was the side entrance to the City-Cross Arcade, where I would buy lunch daily;

Here is Leigh Street - it was recently beautified by the city council;

Here is Peel Street - a more typical, non-beautified laneway;

Here is a modern laneway in the sea-side suburb of Glenelg, just west of Adelaide;

Melbourne is one of my favourite cities for many reasons. Melbourne has a great variety of streets. There are plenty of wide streets like Bourke Street;

And plenty of cozy streets like Little Bourke Street;

And, of course, plenty of charming laneways - like Flinders Lane;

The famous Hardware Lane;

And one of my favourites, Market Lane;

(The other reasons I love Melbourne, if you are wondering, are the architecture and trams.)

I love laneways - I love exploring cities on foot, branching off streets down narrow laneways and finding hidden treasures that the city has to offer. I have missed this experience since moving to the United States. The closest word Americans have to laneway is probably 'alley', but when I search for images of alleys in New York City I see images of this;

Honestly, that would scare me off - it looks like the hideout of drug dealers and thugs. Just searching for alleys in general returns mostly dilapidated, scary places;

They are not the kind of places that would create pleasant urban environments. From just searching for images of alleys, I have already generated a bad connentation of them as being places of dilapidation and crime. I think I will stick to calling extremely narrow streets 'laneways' - at least that gives me images of lovable, charming places;

Notice that on the image above, even though the pavement and the wall on the left is full of scratches, chips, and missing chunks - it is still a pleasant and lovable street!

The problem with New Urbanism is that they love boulevards and wide streets. Take a look at this typical New Urbanist sketch;

Where are those intimate laneways that I miss so dearly?

Even if they add laneways, it would probably lead to a parking lot that New Urbanists love to hide behind buildings - and that would just ruin their charm;

Perhaps Americans (and American New Urbanists) do not like narrow streets because of the bad connentation alleys have? So let's fight against it and build plenty of charming laneways!

I am hoping that someone can prove me wrong and show me an American city with plenty of narrow streets to explore. I will visit that city!



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Kevin Perera • 10.26.2017 • 17:18 PM (MDT)
Very interesting post and compelling rationale - true pedestrian focused pathways. Old Asian and European cities have these in abundance but not  so much here in America.  Some of this feel is achieved in some of the newer urbanist styled outdoor shopping malls - the narrower pedestrian walkways off of the main streets lined with shops and restaurants; however that is a very sanitized, controlled experience compared to your examples.
Laurence Aurbach • 02.21.2014 • 18:15 PM (MST)
Here is a one-block pedestrian passage in Bethesda Row, MD Here is a central passage through the City Center DC project:
Andrew Price • 02.19.2014 • 16:20 PM (MST)
Thanks Jesse - the keyword is 'laneway revitalization'. I'll bring this conversation over the the Strong Towns Network.
Jesse Bailey • 02.19.2014 • 08:25 AM (MST)
Really good stuff as usual Andrew. You've got me thinking more about alleys and laneways, and my city is thinking about doing a better block project using our neglected alleys. You should repost this on Strong Towns network. Would love to get a conversation going on there too.
NickD • 02.16.2014 • 09:42 AM (MST)
Philadelphia has plenty like this And even several like this Pittsburgh has some pretty narrow streets. Baltimore too. There's a few elsewhere too. Boston: San Francisco: Except for the San Francisco example though, they're all residential.