Photo by Tenderblog

I guess it’s just after being on trips to European cities where the old towns twist around each other that I feel such a longing for alleys and hidden spots in the middle of a city. Take for example Barcelona. The Gothic Quarter of that town is amazing with new little discoveries around every wacky corner.

Here in San Francisco, we really love our 90 degree angles when it comes to streets. While you can see it just about everywhere (including the hills), it becomes more pronounced in the Loin where we have all these high density residential buildings. Take for example the photo above which is on Hyde near Ellis. It may seem like a boring shot at first, but just imagine some small cafe at the end of the street with tables lining the alley. Nothing crazy, just 4-5 tables with opening hours that won’t drive the people crazy who live there. I’d damn well go if it existed.

Yeah, I know, we’ve locked up all of our alleys through gates and doors, walls and barricades because of the fact people think they’d be a haven for seedy activities. I admit that this could easily be the case, but when you happen to stroll down Hemlock Alley and see a DPW employee in one of their trucks getting orally serviced by a prostitute in the middle of a Sunday, you realize that blocking off our alleys doesn’t really stop any of this. It may concentrate it in certain spots instead of spreading it around, but the problem doesn’t go away.

It is possible to have our alleys open again. Yes, it requires a bit of work, but look at the Tenderloin “National Forest” on Cohen Alley or how about one of my favorite spots, Meacham Place which is a nice little oasis off Post Street. It houses a number of nice TIC units as well as Voicebox Creative. You see what nice surprises there are to find down alleys. They’re still there, we just need to think about the spaces and use them better.