Daniel Toole, Assoc. AIA, fell in love with alleys in 2008, when he first moved to Seattle. On his way to work, “I started walking through the alleys instead of the streets,” he says, “and I was just amazed.” Convinced that he had stumbled upon an underutilized resource, he began photographing, sketching, and brainstorming the architectural and urban-planning potential of alleys on his blog, alleysofseattle.com. A 2010 AIA Seattle fellowship funded an international alley-study tour, which Toole documented in his self-published book Tight Urbanism.

“I’d heard that Melbourne [Australia] was kind of the alley capital of the world,” says Toole, who studied that city’s successful effort to fight urban blight by developing its “laneways” for public use and encouraging owners to open their buildings’ side walls with storefronts. “It makes the alley safe and turns it into a reclaimed urban infrastructure,” Toole says, a lesson reflected in Tokyo nightlife alleys that have thrived “for something like 200 years.”

Back at home, Toole has since consulted on alley-development projects in and near Seattle. And while that focus may never form the core of a professional practice, he says, “it’s definitely influenced how I look at a design problem, whether it’s a library or a house. It’s opened my eyes to how important it is to understand how cities work.” It’s also made him a lot of friends. “People contact me from all over the world for research,” he says. “And just to get in touch.”