Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Life in the Lane

Yesterday, I had the honour of attending the Ryerson University School of Urban & Regional Planning awards ceremony and accepting the IBI Group Award on behalf of myself, Danny Bridson, Joanna Craig, Heather Finlay, Virpal Kataure, Alex Leung, Chris Pereira, Adam Szaflarski and Jesse Watson. This honour is awarded to group projects for excellence in the professional practice, and the Life in the Lane project we completed in December of 2009 was the lucky project.

The Life in the Lane project was initiated by Adam Vaughan, the councillor for Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina). In his ward, as in many of the older downtown neighbourhoods, there are a lot of laneways and back alleys. Some have houses, businesses and kids playing in them, some are simply used as shortcuts and access to back yard parking, and others are dangerous places where people try to avoid. The problem is that in many cases, there is no official record of what buildings and activities are located there. The Life in the Lane project sought to take a survey of the laneways and look at strategies to improve and enhance these almost forgotten spaces.

After a lot of field research, land use analysis and policy analysis, we came to several recommendations:
  • Officially recognizing the lanes, as they are generally grouped with the adjacent property and not as a separate transportation entity.
  • Explore new municipal service options, because the rules that govern things like garbage collection and snow clearing will not work in laneways.
  • Foster community stewardship within the lanes, as these spaces are often ignored by the neighbourhoods they are located in.
  • Beautify the laneways, as many are dark, dreary and uninviting.
One of the strategies that some cities have used to make laneways more attractive places to be is to allow people to live there. A typical laneway house is a conversion of an un-used lanway garage - and there are many legal and illegal conversions in Toronto - but we quickly found that allowing laneway housing is not a simple task. There are layers of planning, servicing, economic and physical challenges standing in the way, but it is clear that laneways have enormous potential to add unique amenity spaces to downtown neighbourhoods.

If you would like to see the report, feel free to email me at andrae(at)



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