As Toronto continues to grow at what feels like an alarming rate at-times, the provision of easily accessible public spaces has emerged as a key element in balancing the city's livability with its increasing density. The Laneway Project is a planning and urban design organization that aims to address part of the city's public space problem by changing the way Toronto utilizes and interacts with its 2400+ network of laneways. Their third annual summit and exhibition—which focused on how to unlock the potential of these underused public spaces—was held this past Wednesday, November 30th, 2016.
With the title 'Laneway Forward' the event comprised of a moderated panel discussion followed by an art exhibition that showcased the winners of their 2016 Photo Contest. The panel focused on the challenges faced when trying to improve Toronto's laneways, what needs to change so we can better realise the opportunities that our laneways present, and how there is a need to create a stronger movement for laneway activation in the city. The panel consisted of the Policy Manager at Park People Jake Tobin Garrett, Executive Director at the Junction BIA Jessica Myers, Laneway Mural Artist Monica Wickeler, Project Manager for the City's Pedestrian Projects Mark Van Elsberg, and the Toronto Police Service's Community Safety and Social Media Officer Jonathan Morrice, from 55 Division.
Moderated by Annabel Vaughan, Project Manager at ERA Architects and principal of publicLAB, the conversation started off on how each panellists' work relates to laneways and highlighted the versatility of uses that laneways have as space. Neighbourhood pride and how to use the laneways to foster more of it was a big talking point during the panel with Myers noting how she is always actively looking for ways to encourage the Junctions' local business to take ownership of their laneways. Building on this, Wickeler who is a noted local muralist, mentioned that she is often commissioned by local Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) to help transform the laneways in their locality and that she has been asked by businesses to paint murals in the laneways behind their shops to deter vandalism and theft. Wickler and Morrice both noted that there seems to be a correlation with the amount of vandalism and theft that occur in laneways that are underused and not taken care of.
Laneways in Toronto represent of over 250 acres of under-utilized land, and are for the majority of the year only used by residents and businesses as service corridors, or as shortcuts by pedestrians and cyclists. A major recommendation and course of action as to how to transform laneways into functional and dynamic public-spaces, was to utilise a multi-modal policy during the programming and planning stage. Multi-modal programming in the case of laneways would involve having multiple forms of functions in the laneway on a regular basis, e.g. parking in the morning, pop-up markets in the afternoon, drop-in sports for local children in the evening, and extended patios and events at night. Such programming would provide a wide variety of options to local place-makers on how to utilise laneways, and would demonstrate how much potential these untapped public spaces—which are spread all over the city—possess.
The 2016 summit ended with an exhibition of the 10 finalists from the Laneway Project's 2016 Photo Contest. It was organised to encourage and challenge local Torontonians to capture what they love about the city's laneways. The winning entry of the contest is the shot below by local photographer Flora Manata which showcases some of the famous Rush Lane Graffiti Alley off of Queen Street West. Manata, when describing her inspiration for entering the contest, describes laneways as "connectors to our city's evolving cultural heritage", further adding that "they are not just narrow roads between buildings that provide passageway or parking, but can become vibrant destinations animated with eateries, shops, and art. Laneways are the perfect example of Toronto's untapped public space potential."
Have an idea for your local laneway or want to get more involved? Local firm Lanescape, which is a group of planning, design, and development professionals who advocate for laneway development, are conducting a survey on laneway suite zoning bylaws with the City of Toronto, intending to use the data to inform a report that will go to Council for a vote to allow laneway suites to become an as-of-right approval.
Feel free to leave a comment in the space below this page or to add to our forum thread on Laneway Housing.