Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Alleys between streets and buildings serve important public works functions.  They literally provide air and breathing room for tenants, bringing in light and breezes to stuffy apartments.  Delivery and garbage trucks use them for pickups and drop offs.  Drivers use them to save time and gas by eliminating one way streets and stop lights.

But others use alleys too.

Homeless people use them for toilets and sleeping.  Drug addicts use them as shooting galleries.  Prostitutes turn tricks in them.  Street criminals use them as ambush points where innocent people are beaten up, raped, stabbed, and shot in them.

Alleys, an important feature of any urban landscape, had become a menace.  Dangerous, smelly, and nasty places.

So the city of Seattle came up with a brilliant idea.  Let's close the alleys to traffic and pedestrians and actually make walking or driving down an alley a crime.  Not all the alleys in the city, but only those with a past history of problems.

The logic was simple.  If drug addicts, prostitutes, street thugs, and the homeless could not get into alleys, they could not do mischief in the local area.

So the alleys were closed with big signs and even bigger warnings.  Here is one example in downtown Seattle near the major intersection of 3rd and Union right across the street from Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony.

Without even knowing the whole facts, what do you think happened next?

Did the prostitutes go straight and get real jobs since they had no place to "work"?  Did the drug addicts seek out rehab treatment programs when their favorite place for heroin and meth addiction relief was taken away?  Did the criminal class just throw up their hands and surrender in the face of this attack on their real estate?

Of course not.

All the crimes, filth, urination and defecation, and shooting up is now done in PUBLIC.  If the alleys are closed, then just go into spaces which are not.  Like building doorways, parking garages, public parks, and actually in front of the alleys and their warning signs.

Criminals and drug addicts may be societal defects but they are not always stupid.  Unlike the city of Seattle which somehow believed this new program would work.  Now take your kids to a public park and you can see, if you are unlucky, an addict shooting up between their toes or two junkies arguing about a drug deal gone bad.  Public urination and defecation in Seattle is on the rise like in this "hot" tourist neighborhood Pioneer Square complete with many alleys.

Seattle has big plans for its alleys.  Some it wants to turn into public spaces for street parties and tourists.  Read this article and look at the photographs.  Would you go see a movie in a crowded alley?

Alleys are supposed to be functional spaces, not recreational ones.  When alleys are closed, traffic and deliveries are shunted onto public streets.

If you want to rid a city of prostitutes, junkies, vagrants, and street criminals there is a better way.  It's called the criminal justice system.

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