Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Asian Alleyways: An Urban Vernacular in Times of Globalization

Marie-Gilbert Flutre, Heidi Imai

Amsterdam University Press



Asian Alleyways is a celebration of smaller and more shadowy urban spaces. These are ambiguously situated between private and public space, often associated with illicit acts, and frequently omitted from official maps. But the editors argue that this in-between status provides a venue for both ordinary and transgressive urban activities, especially those centred on pedestrian rather than car culture. The book is a call for more attention to these smaller-scale spaces, away from the trends towards spectacle and globalization in East Asian cities. At the same time, there appears to be a risk of over-romanticizing alleys as nostalgic fantasyscapes.

Marie-Gilbert Flutre and Heidi Imai variously refer to alleyways as “awry spaces”, “urban blind spots” and “the fine grain of the urban fabric”. But of course these places have local names and personalities as well: from the dense shophouse alleyways of Ho Chi Minh City to the geometric hutongs of Beijing and the self-built sois of Bangkok.

The chapter on alleyway networks in Tokyo and Seoul explores the tensions between eliminating and revitalizing alleys as part of urban redevelopment, after eliciting the perspectives of residents of two traditional but changing neighbourhoods. In the Tsukuda area of Tokyo, some rojis are being widened or demolished to accommodate high-rise apartment buildings, altering relationships between newcomers and long-time residents. In the rapidly gentrifying Seoul neighbourhood Ikseondong, young entrepreneurs focus on the economic benefits of alleyways, rather than their historical or emotional resonance.

The overall picture is of alleyways as sometimes overlooked, yet still significant, sites to understand the changing tides of East Asian cities.


Further reading:

Iossifova, Deljana (2013), “Searching for common ground: urban borderlands in a world of borders and boundaries”, Cities Vol 34, pages 1–5, available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259679287_Searching_for_common_...

Kawarazuka, Nozomi, Christophe Béné and Gordon Prain (2017), “Adapting to a new urbanizing environment: gendered strategies of Hanoi’s street food vendors”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 30, No 1, pages 233–248, available at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956247817735482.

Kim, Kwang-Joon (2012), “The study of urban form in South Korea”, Urban Morphology Vol 16, No 2, pages 149–164, available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259679287_Searching_for_common_....

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