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Chicago Is the Shadiest of Them All: View All the Alleyways

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Chicago has a lot of superlatives. But did you know that it's also the alley capital of the nation? You could travel through a dark and shady path that's over 1,900 miles long, if the alleys were laid end-to-end.

You may find this to be a foreign statistic, if you live in an area that is actually alley-free. And you're probably thinking that this is nothing particularly special to think about. After all, alleys are often portrayed as the perfect backdrop where illicit and illegal activities happen. The human instinct may be to go where the light is.

And there's historical precedence for that feeling: in the early 1800's, alleys served the perfunctory purpose of clearing out trash, delivering coal, stowing human sewage, and housing horses with their accoutrements: namely, poop and hay. Back away.

So it's probably little wonder that Frederick Law Olmsted, the master of landscape architecture and all things beautiful in urban development, had a different plan for city structure. His community, Riverside, was the first planned suburb in the country, located on the far western outskirts of Chicago. What you'd find there were lawns with grass, not alleys with trash.

By 1913, the alley seemed to die in the darkness of its putrid-smelling past. The advent of the automobile, which needed a garage, not a back street, further drove a spike into the alley's heart.

But now that we're urban creatures, with over 50% of the world living in a city, can we reclaim the paths? Chicago seems to think so, with the green alleys program, which updates them to stay cooler and allow better water runoff. And then there are the popup events by the urban experience orchestrator extraordinaire, Chicago Loop Alliance.

In any case, if you want to see how many alleys could potentially be reinvented in the city, then look no further than this amazing interactive infographic by WBEZ91.5, showing a grid of all those back streets, side streets, and otherwise unsung heroes of passageways that served the urbanites of yore.

· Shadow city: How Chicago became the country's alley capital [WBEZ91.5]
· Loop Chicago: Activate [official website]