25 things vanishing in America, part 2: Alleys


Back in the days before playgrounds, dog parks, and play dates, city kids played in a space unmatched for variety, challenge and mystery -- the alley. When city blocks were bisected by these primitive roads giving access to back yards, garages, gardens, burn cans and trash, we lived in anticipation of the treasures, secrets and adventures we'd discover wandering the neighborhood alleys.

Today, virtually no housing developments incorporate alleys. The narrow pathways seem now to be a threat to our security, an intrusion on the privacy of our back yard, and an additional cost to the city budget. We proudly present our three-car garage doors to the street and hide our trash in wheeled green containers.

The city alley was not just a playground, however. It helped bring a neighborhood together. Shade tree mechanics working in the alley benefited (or suffered from) the advice of all those who could watch his progress from their kitchen windows. Gardeners could compare the progress of their tomatoes, cabbage and zucchini to their neighbors, and, if superior, mention it the next time they engaged in over-the-fence conversations.