Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Tale of Three Alleys

Go to Fitler Square. Look west. You'll see three alleys leading down to the park by the Schuylkill River. The 2400 blocks of Panama, Delancey, and Cypress. They can talk to us about what it's like to be an alley in Philadelphia.

Let's start with Panama Street. This is an old street that has seen hard use and survived in very good shape. Its scars (have a look at the tree behind the dog walker) should be seen as badges of honor. I don't want to turn Philadelphia into Disneyland.

I think this is one of the most beautiful streets in Philadelphia. On my rating scale (see Center City Quarterly, Fall 2015, p. 1), I give it an A. I choose not to see its flaws, and it sparks joy. Make that an A+.

Pavement on Panama Street
Next is Delancey. A very different block from Panama, with a lovely Mediterranean vibe. Don't know how to improve it. It's been on my basic running route for many years, and I've watched the work that got it to where it is. Another A.

Ah, Cypress. There are some very good elements here, but the block hasn't gelled. The other two alleys hold you, but this one lets the space bleed away on the north side, over the garage gates.

I think part of the problem is that the alley is so wide. The gates simply aren't tall enough to provide closure.

And there are no sidewalks. Well, there are some remnants, but mainly this alley is wall-to-wall asphalt. I feel adrift, and it's not a wine-dark sea. We need a little poetry here.

What to do? Sidewalks would be nice; they would help define the space. But they would be expensive. Strings of LED lights over the parking spaces on the north side would provide an attractive visual closure, at least at night.

Have a look at the building to the left in the picture, with the red-painted brick. Call Isaiah Zagar and get a mural. One with lots of mirror shards. The light at this end is dead.

Also, the buildings on the south side might want to consider some Mediterranean pastels for their facades, which are actually quite nice in their current shades of off-white. But the block needs something. (The house facing the park, on the south side of the alley, has already made a nice start in this regard.)

 Cypress, corner of 25th
Bury the utility wires. Maybe some trees? There are a few, but not enough to pull the block together.

2400 Cypress is a clean utilitarian alley. There are no derelict structures. I'll give it a B.

See also This Isn't Just Any Alley.


  1. On Cypress Street, definitely street trees on the building side of the street. No overhead utility wires! Also, add pavers and make a woonerf!

    1. Hi, Marcus. I think all three of these are already de facto woonerfs. It wouldn't hurt to label them, though, now would it?

  2. In sun-hot climates a latticed canopy/roof adds immensely to the spatial and visual definition of a narrow pedestrian street. The alleystreet behind Bill West's house (or an adjacent extension if not his block) has such a "roof" with its block-long strings of uniform tiny white lights.

  3. I live on the Cypress Street block and would love to see the utility lines buried and street redone with pavers. If there is a good way to go about getting this done, please let me know. I have already reached out to Streets and Philadelphia Water without any success.

    1. Hi, Kristen. CCRA has recently set up an Alleys Task Force. You could reach out to them.