blagden_alley_naylor_court_600For this next series of posts, I will talk about my latest obsession: the alleyways and alley spaces of Washington DC.

I moved to Washington late 2014 yet as I was traveling back and froth back and forth between assignments, I never truly felt like I was living in DC until the summer of last year. With a much needed break and shift of focus, I began working independently in 2016. As first step in my newly found independence, I promised myself to further explore the city that was now my home, and explore possibilities to get more involved with local projects and processes.

Becoming a proper flâneur, I found myself wondering the streets of DC, peaking around corners and openings trying to further understand the city’s urban fabric, its different scales, uses and dynamics. It was not long before I bumped onto DC’s wonderful alleys; I quickly became fascinated by what I saw. DC’s alleyways, as opposed to alleyways in other cities’, were not simply linear throughways lined with the back sides of buildings; they were/are throughways connecting large spaces and courtyards within a city block. I found myself bumping into wonderful interior squares and incredible old structures: garages, carriage houses as well as some alley dwellings (some rehabilitated and others quite neglected). I soon learnt and realized that DC alleys conformed an incredible urban network, spread out in the older neighborhoods of the US capital, creating an entire system, a second urban fabric with the city’s urban fabric.

As I dove into the history of these spaces and the structures within them, I soon learnt their importance in the history and socio-cultural dynamics of the city, reflecting the essence Washington’s past, class, racial and socio-cultural struggles. The alleys were in fact home to a large community in the city, and contrary to much of the evolved discourse and stigma around alleyways (which I will explain in later posts), they had to function as a community… In fact, one can easily point out the dichotomy and duality of DC’s two cities: the MAIN CITY, a city of access and excess facing the street; and a HIDDEN CITY, a city of scarcity, informality and neglect.

I look forward to further sharing and exploring with you Washington’s Hidden City, looking at the alleys’ past and history, their evolution, typologies and present state, as well as my own observations and exploration of the potentials they represent… stay tuned!

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Mapping of alley locations and zoning in the neighborhood of Petworth, Washington DC

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