On the Value of Tight Urbanism

As cities such as Chicago and Detroit put forth programs to turn their neglected alleyways into urban amenities, JoAnn Greco speaks with Daniel Toole, a 26-year-old, Seattle-based architect, who has accidentally become an expert on the topic
February 17, 2012, 10am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Toole's emerging expertise was the result of a travel fellowship awarded by his local American Institute of Architects branch, that allowed him to study "this arguably under-appreciated urban form" in Japan and Australia. These studies resulted in a self-published book on Tight Urbanism, an exhibition, and a blog dedicated to the study of alleyways.

Toole is optimistic that as infrastructure such as garbage collection becomes more effective, these underused assets could be appropriated for more social aims, "As waste collection becomes more effective like they've done in some places with a whole underground tube system...Maybe we'll see a proliferation of all this space becoming available. That doesn't mean it has to be turned over to pedestrians and parties, but maybe it could be used as a new kind of green infrastructure, for handling storm water, for growing things. These alleys can be turned into assets for the city. As it stands now, they present a ridiculous amount of space to be used simply for waste conveyance."

"And, of course, they are also an asset for pedestrian passage, they offer exactly the kind of thing that everyone goes to Paris and Rome for: to walk through the little streets."

But Toole needn't have traveled across the world to see examples of urban alleyways transformed into unique amenities. In fact, he needn't have left the west coast, where cities such as Pasadena and San Francisco have created wonderful places out of formerly neglected spaces.

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Published on Thursday, February 16, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities
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