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  A New Age for Alleys
A retired English teacher, Susan Dlugach just cannot retire from learning, tutoring, writing, traveling and exploring.
 
 
 
 

There was always an alley out back wherever we lived in our small coastal Texas town. It would be a weedy two-track lane mostly lined with dilapidated sheds and garages, but occasionally there was a hurricane fence to discourage the messy foliage and other undesirable things.

Sometimes there would be a rusty barrel for burning autumn leaves, not always a legal thing to do. As a second grader, I clutched a tiny purse with my weekly allowance of pennies and nickels and traipsed down the shaded alley to the little grocery store at the end to buy penny candies and a funny book, now more commonly known as comics.

Years later, grown up and moved onto suburbia, USA, my idea of alleys became associated with the stereotypical shady people lurking in darkness among broken liquor bottles, cigarette butts and other debris. These places were the location of storied murderous mysteries, both fiction and real.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and my grown up daughter is living in a midtown flat on T Street. It was from her that I learned of Sacramento's named alleys, some bustling with cantinas and restaurants and a far cry from my previous alley attitudes and experiences. Lively, perky Sacramento, not known as a sexy city, but now sporting innovative new urban ideas.

Naming the alleys was evidently City Councillor Steve Cohn's idea, presented in 2006 and completed five years later. The rationale was to "protect human health and safety by enabling quicker response time" for emergency services and providing more efficient delivery of city services.

The alleys were to be alphabetical, starting with the letter of the street directly north. Thus Fat Alley is between F and G Streets. Alley names were also to have historic context or identity with Sacramento. So no surprise that there are alleys named Blues, Jazz and Opera as reminders of the city's musical connection, Democracy, Government and Matsui, fitting for the state capitol, and Eggplant, Rice and Tomato that signal this area's rich agricultural heritage. And then there's Solons Alley hearkening to the minor league baseball team that once played ball in this river city.

 

 

Besides midtown, named alleys can also be found in East Sac and Curtis Park, neighborhoods also centrally located. The names don't follow the same rules as those in midtown, but Banana, Bicycle, Diagon, Moo and Rivercat Alleys reflect city's culture and spirit, nonetheless.

The noun alley derives from the French verb allee, meaning to walk. Sixteenth Century France sported tree-lined areas free of carriages for quiet strolling. But farther back in 430 B.C.E., the ancient city of Olynthus, now Chalcidice, Greece, developed areas within the city grid for drainage, sewage and trash. In the early 1800's, alleys began to show up in the U.S. to break large city blocks into smaller parcels as space for services to go through.

Thanks to the gold rush in these here hills, Sacramento blossomed into a town virtually overnight in 1848. A gridded plan, laid out quickly to accommodate the influx of newcomers and their money, included alleys to allow for livery, horse and carriage stables. This not only relieved the main streets of too much congestion, but also kept odors from property fronts.

The purpose of alleys has changed over time. Most in this country were implemented before World War I. The Industrial revolution and urban sprawl reduced the inclusion of alleys in American city planning after 1910.

But with the New Urbanism Movement, alleys are once again being thought of as a vital part of city planning. Seeking to reverse the effects of urban sprawl and create more connected communities with walkable neighborhoods has led to the rise of gentle density and with that, a recognition that alleys can help achieve this goal.

A stroll down some of these alleys offers opportunities to say "hi" to residents walking out the gate to tend landscaping lining the lane or to stop in for a fancy cuppa joe at a coffee shop. Sacramento's changing urban landscape is worth checking out.

~ Susan Dlugach

 

 
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