Alleys of Chicago

When I'm asked to describe Manhattan or other parts of New York City by Chicagoans who have yet to visit, I usually start by saying, "They don't have any alleys." It's only a few words but it says a lot, about both the physical and the active make-up of the city. Physically, while the blocks in Chicago are broken up by alleys, Manhattan features impenetrable blocks filled with buildings, with the occasional pocket park or through-block connection. Services like trash, utilities, and loading that are relegated to alleys in Chicago are on the street in Manhattan, adding to the already bustling roads and sidewalks another layer of activity. So alleys help to give each city its character: Chicago is less dense and vibrant than Manhattan, but it's also cleaner and more pedestrian and car friendly. To me, there's no good or bad about either. I love either city for what it is, knowing that alleys -- or lack thereof -- are only one defining feature.

Well, all that babble was spurred by the Chicago Tribune's week-long series on Chicago's alleys. The Flashy, interactive tour is a bit lacking in some respects, but for New Yorkers and other people who have yet to see any of Chicago's almost 2,000 miles of alleys, it definitely illustrates the variety of embodied within an otherwise mundane and practical piece of the city.

(via Gapers Block)


  1. A few days ago I started using alleyways as my main paths to get around the city. This is difficult because the alleys have no directional markers such as street signs, and I always have to be cautious for speeding cars. However, this has proved to be fruitful; it's provided me with a different view of the city that I thought I knew well - it's like a city within a city. And although I have to deal with the smell of trash, I've found some really interesting things in the alleyways.

  2. When I lived in Chicago, I had few moments of seeing similarities between its streetsacpes and those in my native St. Louis. But the alleys in Chicago (at least in the Humboldt/Wicker Park area and parts of the Southeast side that I visited) were so similar to those in St. Louis, replete with amazing and cool items left near trash bins for people to salvage.


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