Animating our local laneways
By Joe Cressy
Downtown communities like ours face unique challenges and countless opportunities. Almost every day, in conversations at our local coffee shops, in public meetings, and as we connect with our neighbours, we look for ways to work together to build our communities. We look for opportunities to enhance our parks, support our neighbours, and to create new public spaces.
Tucked away near the places we live, work, and play are spaces that can often be forgotten. Places that we can, together, creatively transform to help us enhance our vibrant neighbourhoods: laneways.
We can turn a barrier into a gateway, create new fronts from old backs, and make liability into an asset
Our laneways offer opportunities at every turn. Some are owned by the City of Toronto, others are private — often, however, they are concrete, dark, and characterized by very little greenery and activity. In downtown alone, we have kilometres and kilometres of space that can be transformed to enhance livability in our neighbourhoods.
Together with local communities, we have been working on three exciting projects to transform these forgotten landscapes. We are looking to enhance our green space, increase housing affordability, and increase the public art and animation of our streets.
In collaboration with the Harbord Village Residents’ Association (HVRA), we have created the Harbord Village Green Plan — a local, comprehensive vision to transform the laneways in the community. The resident-driven plan identifies opportunities to expand and enhance green spaces throughout the neighbourhood, but zeroes in on laneways as a key priority to enhance our green space. Thanks to hard-working community volunteers, there is a solid foundation from which to grow green infrastructure. Croft Laneway has already been the subject of a pilot project by the HVRA to formalize laneway greening. Moving forward, we will work hard on laneway planting, adding green elements, introducing vining, and creating other opportunities to restore and foster ecosystem health.
In the Huron-Sussex neighbourhood, Evergreen and the University of Toronto are working on a pilot project to explore laneway housing in Toronto. The Huron-Sussex Neighbourhood Plan, developed with the Huron Sussex Residents’ Organization and the University of Toronto, envisions dozens of new laneway houses over the coming decades. It’s a vision to provide family-size housing opportunities as part of a plan for broader intensification. Infill development like laneway housing can add density and a more diverse population to the neighbourhood, while the creation of a “living laneway” will connect streets, blocks, and open spaces with a shared street focused on promoting pedestrian priority and green spaces.
A central hub for homegrown arts and culture within our city, Queen West has a distinct reputation for innovation and creative production. Rush Lane, which runs parallel to Queen Street, is a veritable art gallery of street art, murals, and graffiti. You likely already know the lane as the backdrop for Rick Mercer’s weekly ‘rant’. This stretch of Queen Street West itself is included in a designated Heritage Conservation District, yet the surrounding areas continue to change. As the broader neighbourhood evolves, new opportunities to build on the area’s defining creative identity must be recognized and supported. In collaboration with local stakeholders, we are pursuing opportunities to increase the functional capacity of this public right of way beyond simple garbage collection and deliveries. We can turn a barrier into a gateway, create new fronts from old backs, and make liability into an asset. By working together in the community, we can enhance pedestrian-oriented public space, drawing even more visitors to local business, and increase much-needed community amenities and connections in the heart of downtown.
As we grow as a city, we need to ensure that we are building neighbourhoods, and laneways certainly have a role to play in helping this along. Through our partnerships on exciting laneway projects, and our work to invest in all our social infrastructure, we continue to march forward to doing just that.
Joe Cressy is the councillor for Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina.
City seeking street greening opportunities: Harbord Village plan targets laneways, parkettes (February 2016) by Marielle Torrefranca
Incubating micro-retail: Laneways untapped realm of urban design (December 2015) by Annemarie Brissenden