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  • Writer's pictureJoël Tibbits

Alley-ness or 路地の精神

Recently, I was walking through a narrow laneway in South East Vancouver pondering human organization, when I remembered my initial fascination with alleys.

It began in Takamatsu, Japan.

During my time there I became entranced with alleys. They were the most unique array of spaces and passages I had ever seen. Commonly between buildings, fences, train stations, parks and schools, some alleys would lead into dead ends or lose their alley-ness altogether as they gradually morph into streets that would eventually spill back into the formality of the roadways.

And within the contours of these alleys were all manner of objects - bicycles, fluorescent signs, vending machines, garbage bins; once I even came across a pair of owls on a small perch outside a clothing store, strategically placed as a surprising novelty to entice shoppers.

What deepened the allure of these concrete pathways were the other layers of Japanese life and culture that the alleys facilitated. They were at once private and vulnerable, providing contexts for meetings and solitary moments - people arguing and laughing, pausing for a cigarette, chatting, napping, urinating, reading, vomiting, drinking, crying. The alleys were an unrelenting continuum of variety and character that at times defied my sense of reason. It seemed the alleys sought their own self-understanding as they personified such intriguing arrays of life while retaining their functional familiarity.

This experience in Japan initiated a life long fascination with alleys - when and wherever I could find them. In fact to this day, when walking, I will always take an alley route over sidewalks and main streets; the unknowns are too enticing to ignore.

Alleys are nerve centres of city life, and as each may be so distinct and ripe with its own mysteries and qualities, alley-ness demonstrates the nuance of the in betweens and relationships of human organization. They exemplify the connectivity, along with all the complications, discomforts, gifts and mysteries that human beings experience, create and observe in the co-ordination of the human endeavour.

It is spaces like alleys, the hidden spaces, where human beings may find one another in ways unimagined or unconsidered; because just as alleys in cities, these kinds of spaces exist within and between human beings, at once private and vulnerable.

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