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Coming soon to an alley near you

Tim Burgess is leading the effort to put names on Seattle's unnamed alleys, or at least figure out how to do it and what it will cost. Mossback's head is swelling.
An alley in the University District. Alleys offer a major opportunity for meaningful naming.

An alley in the University District. Alleys offer a major opportunity for meaningful naming. By lachance/Crosscut Flickr group

I recently proposed that Seattle should consider naming its unnamed alleyways, some 260 miles of them. This would be part of an effort to reclaim and revitalize alleys, and recognize more than a century of urban life that has taken place since the street grids were largely named. A lot of worthy Seattleites aren't honored on the map.

Okay, so Mossback is being a bit John Hinterbergerish or Dick Falkenburyian in promoting a civic idea hatched on a soiled napkin, but what the heck. And mine's a lot cheaper than the Commons or the Green Line Monorail. The response was terrific: people liked the idea and it was quickly spread on talk radio by guys like Steve Scher and Dave Ross.

My hope was that someone in officialdom would be interested, and that turned out to be true. City Councilmember Tim Burgess is not only interested in cleaning up the streets, but in the alley-naming scheme. He also has a street sign idea of his own: to add memorial markers to existing street signs that would honor police and firefighters who died in the line of duty near the place of their sacrifice, an idea I like as well.

Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen is chair of the council's transportation committee and he tells me that Burgess is carrying the ball on alleys. Burgess told me that he loves the idea and that it kicked off a flurry of activity. He reports progress: "We are forming a work group with representatives from SDOT, Parks, Historic Preservation Office, police, fire, planning commission, and legislative branch to begin work on protocols for naming, process, cost implications, etc., etc. The behind the scenes work is under way now, and the first meeting of the work group will be in late May (caused primarily by my vacation which begins next week).... The grunt work is under way."

That's great news: A committee has formed a working group! Hey, in government terms that means the glacier is starting to move your way, so be glad and I am. I'll keep bugging Burgess (after his vacation, anyway) to keep it moving. This is a low-cost way to advance sustainability and heritage simultaneously in virtually all neighborhoods.

One disappointment: Developer Kevin Daniels had told me that he'd consider naming an alley connected with Merrill Place after Mother Damnable, the 19th century madam who made such a mark in pioneer Seattle. But I cornered him the other day and he said the idea wasn't flying. So that redolent name is still up for grabs if the city, or any other private alley owner, is interested in honoring one of Seattle's earliest and most successful entrepreneurs.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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