Northside leaders develop plan for alley reuse

An often overlooked piece of an urban community’s infrastructure is the alley. Alleys once provided a great deal of service, but have since fallen out of use in some areas due to an ever-changing urban form and demographics.

In Northside, neighborhood leaders there have begun examining their alleys as part of a mission to “Clean Up, Green Up and Light Up” the alley network in Northside. In September 2009, planners inventoried the surface types of 24 alleys in Northside.

“In the beginning of our talks I researched alleys and what other cities were doing,” said Lisa Auciello of the Northside Community Council about the neighborhood’s early efforts to discover what could be done with the alleys.

Auciello described Chicago’s Green Alley Handbook as being a great example on how to cut down on crime in alleys by providing additional lighting and encouraging citizens to use the alleys more frequently in creative ways.

Boswell Alley Restaurant has a beautiful herb garden in their alley that the cook uses daily, and we have found that some residents are also planting flowers in their alleys,” said Auciello. “Our Citizens On Patrol Program is going to “Adopt A Spot” through Keep Cincinnati Beautiful and our spots will be a couple of the main alleys off of Hamilton.”

Alleys have long provided critical access to hard-to-reach urban areas throughout Cincinnati, and as the city redefines itself it will become increasingly important for neighborhood and city leaders to continue to examine how we treat this significant part of our urban landscape.

  • VisuaLingual

    It's great that Northside is looking into ways to better utilize its alleys, rather than just fencing them off, as happens in OTR. I just recently wrote something about alleys on my own blog. As a pedestrian, I love using alleys and wish that more people did as well.

  • Radarman

    Cincinnati's brick and granite alleys are beautiful and useful, but the city administration seems to want to shut them down or ignore them to death. They're great alternative bike routes, and excellent for garbage pickup. The get closed off far too often.

    The greatest alley intersection is behind the Waldo

  • Quim

    Green Alley Handbook
    Northside's alleys aren't that great (downtown's are), but that's no reason to ignore them. Madison's used to grill out on the alley next to their store. The alley connected with one of the neighborhood parking lots. It'd be cool if the sushi guy resurrected that. Cluxton Alley Coffee makes good use of their alley, too.

  • Jeffrey Jakucyk

    Well, the big problem with many of Cincinnati's alleys is that they're just so damn narrow. You can't get a passenger car down many of them, let alone a garbage truck. They simply aren't useful for their original purpose as service ways, and it's especially frustrating that in most cases they didn't even bother putting the power lines back there either. They are really beautiful though, with the brick paving and granite curbs, but brick is a lousy surface for bike riding, even when it's in top condition. It's a difficult conundrum for sure.

  • Randy Simes

    I agree with Radarman that the alleys would make for great bicycle routes, but at the same time they can pose problems with their bricks or other obstructions.

    In residential areas it would seem to make sense to allow them to become courtyard spaces so that those urban areas are able to claim a bit more outdoor space.

  • Nathan

    Alleys need to be used for their intended purpose: as service links and corridors. As such, they are an essential part of a walkable, pedestrian-friendly, truly urban environment. As soon as we locate the uses for alleys out on the street, the street becomes less attractive and pedestrian-friendly. Trash cans, delivery vehicles, utility poles eand services, and perhaps most importantly, vehicle access to garages and parking, should take place in and via the alley.

    This last is key, as it means often two, maybe three and at max four points of entrance and egress by vehicles into a block. This is much more pedestrian-friendly — and also much safer! — then the individual driveways that interrupt the sidewalk and are a characteristic of the suburbs and exurbs that are so oppressive to the human being enjoying, living, and experiencing their outdoor environment in the context of the city.

    Certainly attention should be paid to the significanse of the alley. And keeping them well-lit, properly paved, and clean are certainly considerations. However, if I was to prioritize efforts at beautification, I would choose the street first. Also, in the effort to revitalize the alley, we do not have to reinvent it, or change it, but rather simply need to rediscover the important and essential role they have, should, and can play in a healthy urban fabric.

    I would also express concern about focusing or steering bicycle traffic to alleys. Certainly, they should offer a possible route for riders. However, I fear that might encourage the idea the bikes should be relegated to alleys, that they should be secondary, giving way to the automobile on the street. I am concerned anytime that we take steps that further surrender the street to the automobile, instead of reclaiming the street for pedestrians and bikes. (Another example would be skywalk or pedestrian bridges, that imply the street is no place for a pedestrian, because that is the place of the automobile.) We should be talking more about bikes lanes and steps to ensure bicycle and pedestrian safety and shared ownership of the streetscape. Again, this is not to say that we can't or shouldn't make alleyways accessible and friendly to bikes; it just means that the focus should be on the street first.

  • Randy Simes


    The problem with some of this is that alleys can no longer accommodate the vehicles associated with delivery or trash collection purposes like they used to. It seems unlikely that those vehicle designs are going to change so that they can fit within the alleys of a handful or American cities.

    The utility aspect is interesting because after a trip to Denver I noticed that they stick virtually all of their utilities in their alleys. It's obviously much cheaper than burying the lines, but it accomplishes the same end goal of decluttering the primary urban space and making it more visually pleasing to those using it.

    I do agree that alleys are best used when used as a means of access. It does make urban spaces more usable and friendly when alleys and rear-loaded access points are utilized instead of direct access onto the primary street. With that said, some of our neighborhoods have changed to the point where they no longer use these alleys in such a way. We can't really tell people they have to use them and then go forward and force them to redesign their property in an according way, so what should be done with these spaces is a question for which I'm interested in finding an answer.