Why look at alleys?

Rethinking alleys matters because livable gathering places in the heart of city blocks sparks neighbor-to-neighbor engagement, and cities grow healthier with more person-to-person interaction in public spaces full of life.

Think of an alley as a block’s main square and imagine a neighborhood park, plaza, or micro-business hub instead of an asphalt service road.

Every facet of planning that makes a city is often manifested in urban alleyways. An alley can be the embodiment of a city’s comprehensive plan in a nutshell.

Community and green space, housing, business, transportation. The old and the new.

Alleys are frequently overlooked spaces. Is that space to be dead-space, or livable space? Does it encourage wildlife habitat, park-like amenities, public art, urban gardening, places to play, and the preservation of trees?

questions to ask

Housing development on alleys is often infill. Is it smart infill? Does it encourage efficient green building and infrastructure standards? Does it encourage affordable housing? Does accessory housing face an alley like a scaled-down town square, encouraging community; or does it face the rear of a main house that in turn faces a car-centric road?

If an alley is commercially zoned, how does it guide good business practice? Does it encourage local independent opportunities such as small business carts? Does it spur the reduction of commercial carbon footprints?

Does an alley throughway prioritize cars – or people and nature? Does it use good design to invite pedestrians, play, bikes and wheelchairs? Does it trap heat? Does it shed and flood polluted rainwater, or does it filter it?


Integrative alley policy is a boiled down exemplar of how city government is able to re-imagine and practice comprehensive urban development.

Livable alley policy often includes the following goals:

  • Increase park like places and neighborhood connectivity
  • Encourage green affordable ADU housing, community uses, or micro-business opportunities
  • Reduce urban dead-spaces, heat-trap, and runoff
  • Simplify and improve the citizen engagement processes for these aims

Activating alleys or other pedestrian-shared roadways may include anything from a creative event or installation to development of a public park, accessory dwelling community, or cultural and small business hub.

an opportunity

Alleys are the capillaries of urban transportation, housing and green space. They’re hidden assets with which to explore and model innovative policy in a uniquely focused setting – a humble opportunity for planning at the confluence of environmental and community stewardship with beauty and efficacy.

Please enjoy our archive of information and resources related to this movement for livable infrastructure, and let us know if there’s something you think should be added to the mix.

about alleyactivation.org

This archive was hatched from documents and resources made and found in work related to the Portland Oregon Beech-Failing Alley Project (BFAP, originally called the Albina Homestead Alley Project).

In March 2016, neighbors adjacent to the Portland Beech-Failing alley started BFAP, aiming to transform the alleyway from a place of flooding and neglect to a thriving public space like other green and activated alleys throughout the country.  BFAP’s mission is to demonstrate community-led development of this model on-site, while advocating for initiation of supportive Portland programming.  BFAP works toward accomplishing these aims before rapidly encroaching development and current local policy lead to car-centric revision of the Beech-Failing alley and other pedestrian-shared rights of way.

Anchored in the Boise neighborhood, BFAP is at the nucleus of an area impacted by a past lack of municipal support for community-based development, where the need for inspiring engagement among neighbors new and old is particularly acute.

Our long-term project vision is to further connect dots and promote resources for both citizens and municipalities building the this movement nationwide.


Continue reading “about alleyactivation.org”