Private publics

I’ve been looking for ad-hoc basketball hoops in my neighborhood for the past couple of weeks, taking alleys on my bike instead of the streets as I move from place to place as part of my routine.  I’ve run into these homemade hoops pretty much every day.  I shouldn’t be surprised, because, where I grew up, in a subdivisions bordering farmland, every block had a few basketball hoops lining driveways.  These hoops were more visible than the DIY hoops I’ve been looking for in the alleys of Chicago, but also more private.  It was clear who they belonged to and that they were meant for use by residents of that particular house.  While I’ve come across similar arrangements in Chicago: store-bought hoops, often locked behind a fence; most of the homemade hoops have more ambiguous ownership.  They’re often tacked to utility poles and it’s unclear which residence they’re associated with.  It seems entirely possible that the hoops persist long after their makers have moved to a different block or neighborhood.

Alleys are strange public spaces, they don’t feel owned, but they don’t feel welcoming, or even public, either.  Roaming around the alleys, it feels like you’re walking through a gauntlet of closed garage doors. This could be a function of the turning season, though, as I’ve stumbled upon bumping garage parties in warmer months.  As an adult, I find exploring alleys to be fun, but I wonder how kids feel about alleys as play spaces, their games relegated to a space, shared with dumpsters, broken down cardboard boxes and old couches, seemingly reserved for things meant to be kept out of sight.