Exciting news! Just a couple of weeks ago, my partner and I moved to a small street in Baltimore. Now that we’re pretty well settled, I thought you might like to take a look at our lovely little street.
Our street is located 1 1/4 miles north of Baltimore’s Washington Monument and less than 2 miles north of the center of Downtown. It’s a part of the Old Goucher College Historic District, which is made up of former college buildings and rowhouses dating mostly from the late 19th century.
Small streets in Baltimore are often called “alley streets” because they run through blocks, parallel to the main streets and behind the larger houses. The following map provides some context. Instead of using the streets’ real names, we’ll refer to them by their color on the map.
We live on the Purple Street, in the middle of the map. You can see that our block is bounded by the Blue, Yellow, Green, and Red Streets. Before we go to the small street, let’s visit each of the surrounding streets.
Blue Street is around 55 feet wide (building to building). This one-way, two lane street carries a substantial amount of car commuter traffic. Parallel parking on both sides makes it better for walking. In 1898, a chemist and entrepreneur living in one of the marble-front rowhouses on the right purchased all of the lots on the west side of my block and had brick rowhouses constructed upon them.
Yellow Street is around 60 feet wide. Except for a warehouse structure, the buildings on both sides of the block have long since been demolished to become parking lots. Without them, the street has no “frame”, making it feel excessively wide.
Green Street is around 55 feet wide. With brick rowhouses on both sides, a beautiful tree canopy and relatively little car traffic, it’s a pleasant place to walk. Recently, many of the stop-signed intersections were replaced with mini-roundabouts. It’s now a designated bicycle boulevard.
Red Street is around 60 feet wide. Diagonal parking spaces were recently striped here, but the one-way street still feels very wide. There is a park on one side and a community garden on the other.
These four streets frame our small street. Built with 40 feet between curbs, adequate sidewalks and shade trees, and lined with three story rowhouses, they represent the standard for urban living in the 19th century United States. They’re fine places to live and do business, but they’re constructed at the scale of the horse and carriage rather than the pedestrian.
This is our small street. Like the colors of the houses? So do we! The street is 26 1/2 feet wide (building-to-building). The 15 1/2 feet between the curbs is shared among people, bicycles, and cars.
Parking is not legal here, but the rule is not strictly enforced. There is enough space for two vehicles to pass each other. It’s both a blessing and a curse because when no cars are parked here drivers go quite fast, but when at least one car is parked here drivers proceed very slowly. If the roadway was narrowed 5 or 6 feet, then no cars would risk parking here and through-traffic would move slowly.
Our street has “sidewalks”, but they are only 5 1/2 feet wide and half of that width is taken up by the stoops. Both residents and non-residents walking down the street ignore the sidewalks and use the space between curbs. It’s wonderful to walk here because you can experience the street as a whole room rather than “hug the baseboards” as you would on most city streets.
The street has a wonderful rhythm about it. Each rowhouse is 12 feet wide and around 30 feet deep. The houses are an ideal size for the small families, couples, groups of unrelated housemates, and single people who live here.
It’s much easier and far less costly to dress up the front of your house here than it would be in the suburbs—or even on a wider street elsewhere in the city. Our house has one potted tree and three potted flowers. Just $25, $50, or $100 adds beauty and a personal touch that shows some love to both the street and its passers-by.
Instead of dividing our neighborhood’s space into large private yards, the neighborhood shares a sunny community garden and a spacious park. We grow fruits and vegetables in the garden, which is at the end of our block. The park is an excellent place to play a game of soccer, have a picnic, or read a book. There’s a playground for the kids, too.
Recycling bins and trash cans never litter our sidewalks. Everyone in the neighborhood, including our small street, has a back alley for pickup of these items. Maybe you noticed earlier, but our small street is free of power lines. These are also located on the alley.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour! This is just one example to show that small streets are not only for Europeans, but Americans too.
Let’s build small streets in cities and towns across this country.