Skip to Content

Why Don’t New Neighborhoods Have Back Alleys Anymore?

A photo of a back alley.

Every suburb seems to look the same these days. They all have sidewalks, trees, front porches, and lovely lawns. Do you know what’s missing? Back alleys!

It seems like pretty much every new neighborhood is skipping this feature – but why? I found myself thinking about these hidden city treasures.

Back alleys used to be an essential part of daily life in residential areas. People would have access to them from their homes and could use the space as a garbage disposal, a place to park their car or walkways.

However, these days, they’re non-existent in new neighborhoods with strict zoning laws.

Back alleys became less common when zoning laws came along in the 1920s and required every residential area to have two street frontages instead of one.

Nowadays, back alleys are only seen in older cities like Chicago, where zoning laws have more leniency. Back alleys were a result of the industrial revolution and population movement from cities to suburbs.

However, many modern people now complain that back alleys aren’t as convenient as they might believe them to be.

There are several things homeowners can do with their own backyards instead of using an alley for storage or transportation purposes. For instance, they can keep a large bin in their garage and dispose of garbage that way.

Or they could also purchase a car port to park their vehicle outside, or install solar panels on the roof of their house with free electricity!

Are Back Alleys Gone Forever?

I wondered where I could find back alleys that are part of a more recent 21st-century design. I had a feeling that they were still around, even if they weren’t anywhere near my home.

One of the best places to find them would be in Northeast Portland in the areas built pre-1909.

Certain parts of Portland (you might even call them neighborhoods) still stick to the old ways and have back alleys, like Irvington and Alameda. One of these alleys is actually famous – it’s where part of the TV show Portlandia was filmed!

Many people enjoy walking around in back alleys as they can be pretty peaceful and often have unique elements, like old abandoned garages or gardens.

I guess my question is, why do street-front areas get all the love in new developments when they’re only half of the equation?

Both sides have advantages and disadvantages, but I feel that more people will agree with me when I say that back alleys are a lot more charming than front yards.

I wonder how long it will be until these non-existent spaces come back into fashion. I predict they won’t work for at least another generation, but the idea of turning them into community spaces is interesting.

Maybe it won’t be back alleys, but they’ll definitely have something. It’s only a matter of time until there is another popular city element that will fall out of style.

Repurposed Alleyways

A photo of a brick alley wood with lights at night.

Cities are keeping alleys and revitalizing them. I’ve found several lively art galleries you can stroll through in older alleys, and some cities are even hosting events like farmer’s markets and festivals in the space.

The Schenectady Green Market is a farmer’s market held on Jay Street. It’s a historic alley in the Electric City and home to many festivals.

Nashville is working on revamping its alleys. The goal is to turn them all into living spaces. Imagine going for a walk on a hot summer day and seeing the alleys turned into community centers with working fountains, outdoor seating, etc.

Even if we just turn them into urban gardens. Imagine all the good that can come from a space used for something. However, I think it’s important to remember that alleys don’t need to be anything more than what they already are: alleyways.

Calgary’s Chinatown has a section called the “Le Ba,” which is an old Chinese term meaning “back street.” It was once considered an undesirable part of I love the idea!

Several special projects have been popping up in the back alleys in Seattle.

Author of Alleys of Seattle explains,

“As cities become quite cool for everybody again, alleys and leftover spaces will be seen as essential … They’ll be seen as the kind of place people can gather on a small scale.

Communities and planning departments will start to realize the untapped potential of these spaces.”

This is another excellent idea that can strengthen communities. I can think of other ways to use alleys to improve the environment, like creating pocket parks with solar panels on top.

As you can see, there are still back alleys in some parts of the country that are being used for interesting purposes.

While they may not be common in new neighborhoods, I think they will start to become more popular as people begin to appreciate their charm and unique features. Have you been to a back alley lately? What did you think?

More House Plans