How Chicago became the alley capital of the country and why so much of the rest of the region is conspicuously alley-free.


The alley is a reminder of past visions of how to best lay out a city.  In the 19th century, back when Chicago started booming, the city was laid out in a grid and it quickly became a filthy, stinky, disease-ridden place. “Rear service lanes were essential for collecting trash, delivering coal, and stowing human waste — basically, keeping anything unpleasant away from living quarters.”  As we have moved towards curvilinear residential streets and more discrete public utilities, the newer neighborhoods abandoned the alley, but they are still very prominent in old neighborhoods (click here for an interactive map to explore all of Chicago’s alleys). 

Also, Chicago’s suburbs have lofty names (Mount, Heights, Ridge, etc.)  that don’t match this flat topography–read here to find out why.  

Tags: Chicago, urban, placetoponyms, planning, urbanism.