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matty1979

Alleyways in Dallas

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I have spent the past week in Dallas and cant quite figure out why so many of the neighborhoods have alleys and why we dont in Houston. I am not complaining but didnt know if there was a reason for this.

BTW I think we still kick ASS on about every level!

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In the early 1970s, I lived in Winnetka Heights neighborhood, which dates to the teens & twenties - house I owned was built in 1914. At that time, garbage pickup was in the paved alleys, rather than out front on the streets. I believe it had always been that way, but has probably changed now.

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I have spent the past week in Dallas and cant quite figure out why so many of the neighborhoods have alleys and why we dont in Houston.

It costs more money to build both streets and alleys, and when planning a neighborhood, alleys take away land that can be used to sell more or larger homes.

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There are certainly Urban Planning advantages to the use of alleys in that it seperates pedestrian and vehicle zones and can foster more of a community feel with smaller front yards and houses pushed closer to the pedestrian zone. One big complaint of Suburbia and Mcmansions is the celebration of the automobile - alleys help to neutralize that and I lament our lack of them here.

Some of Houston's most desirable older neighborhoods - Heights, cherryhurst, NW of Rice have alleys.

It costs more money to build both streets and alleys, and when planning a neighborhood, alleys take away land that can be used to sell more or larger homes.

That doesn't answer why almost every suburban neighborhood in North Dallas has alleys. Money for double infrastructure isn't an issue up there. Picture King of the Hill - most of the northern half of the metroplex is like that. Apparently the residential consumers of Dallas are willing to lose 10' of their back yards in order to get that dual access. It's a shame we don't have that here.

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we had alleys behind us in Amarillo in the late 60's/early 70's, mainly used for garbage collection and utilities management.

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There are certainly Urban Planning advantages to the use of alleys in that it seperates pedestrian and vehicle zones and can foster more of a community feel with smaller front yards and houses pushed closer to the pedestrian zone. One big complaint of Suburbia and Mcmansions is the celebration of the automobile - alleys help to neutralize that and I lament our lack of them here.

Some of Houston's most desirable older neighborhoods - Heights, cherryhurst, NW of Rice have alleys.

That doesn't answer why almost every suburban neighborhood in North Dallas has alleys. Money for double infrastructure isn't an issue up there. Picture King of the Hill - most of the northern half of the metroplex is like that. Apparently the residential consumers of Dallas are willing to lose 10' of their back yards in order to get that dual access. It's a shame we don't have that here.

Interesting thing about the suburban alleys. One of my best friends has lived in Dallas for 20 years. He thinks the alleys are anti-social. He says that because of the alley, all of his neighbors' activity is oriented toward the back of the house. They enter and leave through the garage, place trashcans in the alley, etc. He never sees people in the front on the streets. In the alleys, all you see is garage doors and wooden privacy fences. He claimed that during the entire time that he lived in Allen, he hardly ever saw his neighbors. When I visited my sister in North Dallas, I noticed no one on the streets or in their yards.

The suburban style homes and street grid could have an effect on this. Whereas old homes have front porches and are closer to the street, new suburban homes tend to have only entryways and are set back from the street. It could also be that in car oriented communities, since everything requires a car to get anywhere, the garage becomes the activity center. Whatever the reason, the alleys up there did not promote neighborliness or pedestrian activity. My friend...who grew up in Chicago, by the way...preferred front loading garages to alleys, at least as far as neighborliness goes.

It completely shot what I had always believed about alleys.

Edited by RedScare

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I lived in a house in Dallas with an alley for 2.5 years - The only time we ever used the front door was to walk the dogs or get the mail - otherwise everything was done through the alley.

I always thought the alley was dirty and ugly. I preferred front facing garages till I moved back to Houston...Now I think the biggest advantage to an alley is the ability to maximize the use of a smaller lot. If your going to have utilities running behind your house, they might as well run in an alley that gives the utility companies access to them without entering your yard. New developments have tiny back yards and usually about half of what pathetic back yard you do have is a utility easement you cant do much with....I think its preferable to be able to set your garage way in the back corner of the lot...if your house and garage are detached that maximizes the amount of yard you can actually use....

My house now has an alley, but my garage faces the street and has a long driveway. That fits my lifestyle best b/c I often have trailers - but if I did not tow trailers frequently I would much prefer an alley loading garage.

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Agreed on the alley allowing skinny lots. However, the suburban lots in Dallas are generally the wider lots found in suburbs everywhere, so the only difference from Houston suburbs is the lack of a front loading driveway. Admittedly, it is often more attractive without the driveway, but as you have also pointed out, the alleys do nothing for the "walkability" of the neighborhood.

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We lived in a neighborhood in Frisco for 3 years, and the main reasoning that I came up with for the alleys along with all my friends as that it cleans up the appearance of the neighborhood. When the garage is in the back, you do not have all the cars parked directly in front of your house all the time. It is more about the asthetic of the house. We had an online HOA and it had a message board. People would always complain about the trash cans and cars in front of the homes with forward facing garages. You didn't see if the garbage was left if your can was in the alley and so no one ever really complained about that. I liked it and I do think it helped with the appearance of the neighborhood, but it did make for a postage stamp size yard and no incentive or chance to really meet any of your neighbors. We mostly just avoided one another. I do wish at least some neighborhoods had that here though, because it is one of the things I liked about the area.

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Cat burglars, graffiti 'artists' and mysterious people in trench coats love hanging out in alley's in the middle of the night, especially the ones behind homes. I hate alley's. As a home owner you are responsible for keeping trees cut, weeds removed and the road passable at all times or face a fine from the city. Also, it is no fun when you have to play chicken with rude oncoming vehicles to get into your garage. Alleys are usually very ugly and I hated having my guest get their first impression of my house from utility poles and the permanent row of garbage cans. Give me a front driveway anytime.

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Interesting thoughts and realities of suburban alleyways - Nice lesson in Theory vs Reality.

Perhaps my thoughts on them here in Houston are skewed by the fact that they are only found in urban and already walkable pleasant neighborhoods minus the ginormous lots. I guess Houston knew what they were doing afterall - though i still think its sad that so few of our urban, walkable neighborhoods take advantage of them. I still see them as an asset for the few neighborhoods I previously mentioned.

Ya know.. it's funny. I cited King of the Hill and yet all the activity with the beer cooler takes place in the alley - exactly the opposite of what I assumed. Live and learn.

Edited by Highway6

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This would apply to the Heights area. It was a building requirement to have alleys in Houston and Harris county until 1911 when the requirement was dropped. Out houses backed up to alleys since early homes did not connect to any type of sewer. The out houses were cleaned out by men with mule carts. Almost all homes built after 1900 used city sewer so the requirement was not needed by 1911.

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I have a pretty cool book about this topic, at least relating to Galveston.

The Alleys and Back Buildings of Galveston: An Architectural and Social History

http://www.amazon.com/Alleys-Back-Buildings-Galveston-Architectural/dp/1585445827

Most blocks in older areas of Galveston have alleys. They were used for outhouses, service buildings, carriage houses, and housing for domestic help and tradespeople. Like most proper house layouts have public and private areas, there is the public street and the more private alleyway, where the more interesting parts of urban living happened. The development of sewers, utilities, modern appliances, and cars removed much of the need for alleys. People started relying less on domestic help, and the people who lived there went to different neighborhoods.

Personally, I think alleys are a great idea. I'd rather have garages facing the alley; it has a much neater appearance than endless rows of garage doors facing the street. It's also a better place to put ugly utility poles, and gives you the option of better utilizing a backyard for a workshop.

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I'm currently visiting Dallas and I discovered the lovely, peaceful alleys for walking in the Oak Cliff/Bishop Arts area. I especially like the

unpaved ones. My presence as I passed behind some houses stirred up some viscous sounding dogs but they were all secure behind their fences. 

I happened on a pigeon coop and I peered through the fence to meet the owner feeding his pigeons, he told me about them, I think they were texan pioneer pigeons. 

Large rotund squabs. Beautiful. 

I was surprised to find the alleys fairly clean, some trash but nothing too gross. Many people seemed to have the alley

completely fenced off from their house, I guess it gives them privacy but in turn made the alley seem private for a walker.

All of the alleys felt like a walk down a country lane. Very fun. Did not see another

person using or walking the whole way. Its a pleasant way to get a different perspective of the neighborhood. 

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Back in the early 1970s I lived on North Windomere, a few streets west of Bishop Arts. At that time, the garbage trucks used the alleys & most houses had garbage cans up on platforms, where they could be accessed over the fences. According to some "old timers" that lived nearby, it had always been that way (since neighborhood was built in the teens).

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When we lived in Plano in the late 60's/early 70's all of the houses had alleys for driveway access. I recall they were paved. My Dad told us that if he ever found one of our bikes in the alley, it would disappear.

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On 4/24/2012 at 11:46 PM, woolie said:

I have a pretty cool book about this topic, at least relating to Galveston.

The Alleys and Back Buildings of Galveston: An Architectural and Social History

http://www.amazon.com/Alleys-Back-Buildings-Galveston-Architectural/dp/1585445827

Most blocks in older areas of Galveston have alleys. They were used for outhouses, service buildings, carriage houses, and housing for domestic help and tradespeople. Like most proper house layouts have public and private areas, there is the public street and the more private alleyway, where the more interesting parts of urban living happened. The development of sewers, utilities, modern appliances, and cars removed much of the need for alleys. People started relying less on domestic help, and the people who lived there went to different neighborhoods.

Personally, I think alleys are a great idea. I'd rather have garages facing the alley; it has a much neater appearance than endless rows of garage doors facing the street. It's also a better place to put ugly utility poles, and gives you the option of better utilizing a backyard for a workshop.

 

That is one of my favorite books. It utilizes Sanborn maps, diagrams, personal stories, and photos. The oral histories are so interesting. They recount a time when there was a whole blend of cultures in the Galveston alleyways, through the many plants, trees, music and food the workers brought with them. I recall one story of the fragrant air, the sandy path and the moonlight. 

 

If you are careful, you can see traces of alleys in some of the older Houston neighborhoods. Park Place, Riverside, and Pineview come to mind. 

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On 2/14/2012 at 1:29 AM, Tumbleweed_Tx said:

we had alleys behind us in Amarillo in the late 60's/early 70's, mainly used for garbage collection and utilities management.

 

I went by my old neighborhood in Amarillo late last year. The alleys are still there.

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