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Seattle Plans to Turn Its Dark Alleys Into Bright Community Hubs

More than just a facelift, the project will transform “utilitarian passageways into inspiring and enlivening elements of the city.”

Pioneer Passage, via Seattle DOT/SvR Design/Olson Kundig Architects

Most people, when they hear the word “alley,” probably conjure to mind dark, dirty—and yes, occasionally dangerous—pathways that thread between buildings like urban arteries, relegated to disrepair from years of neglect and misuse. Alleys, for all their municipal usefulness, are simply not thought of as places where most city-dwellers would choose to spend their time. Planners in Seattle, however, want to reclaim their city’s alleyways for the greater good, not simply as off-street storage for dumpsters and delivery trucks, but as friendly, walkable paths and gathering spaces for neighborhood communities.


In a release put out on June 8th by the Seattle Department of Transportation, city officials announced plans to renovate and refurbish a number of Seattle’s alleys with both structural and cosmetic improvements, in order to “turn these utilitarian passageways into inspiring and enlivening elements of the city.” The city’s Canton and Nord Alleys, as well as its “Pioneer Passage,” will be the first three areas to receive upgrades. Per the release:

“While many of the improvements won’t be easily visible, as they will be located under freshly laid brick and pavement, area residents will surely take note of the new materials, planters, lighting and other amenities...”

The city has already given residents a taste of what their communal alley-spaces might look like by hosting a series of cozy World Cup watching parties in the soon-to-be-renovated Nord Alley, last year.

image via (cc) flickr user sounderbruce

While none of the renovation projects have a dedicated start date, the release urges residents to keep an eye out for changes, as “construction of these projects will begin soon!” Until then, the DOT has offered these artists renderings of the completed alleyways, to give locals an idea of what’s in store:

Canton Alley, via Seattle DOT

Nord Alley, via Seattle DOT/SvR Design/Olson Kundig Architects

Pioneer Passage, via Seattle DOT/SvR Design/Olson Kundig Architects

While artist’s renderings can often be more aspirational than illustrative, it’s clear from these images that Seattle’s plans for its underused, unsightly alleyways amount to more than simply a clean-up job. Instead, the city intends to transform those spaces into well-lit promenades and pedestrian malls. It’s the sort of citizen-minded urban renovation that can help cities feel less like just a collection of streets and buildings, and more like a community. Should the project prove to be successful, perhaps other cities will start taking Seattle’s lead, and look to their alleyways as an untapped source of civic pride.

[via CityLab]

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