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April 12, 2014 at 10:28 AM

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Big Ideas for the City: A Laneway Strategy

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Sydney Lane Bird Cages.
Image Credit. ASPECT Studio

Sydney Lane Bird Cages. Image Credit. ASPECT Studio

Vancouver’s laneways are an ubiquitous component of our public space network. Criss-crossing the urban landscape they comprise a significant portion of our city’s public realm.

For decades the laneways have been regarded as a secondary means of vehicular circulation, while retaining a fundamentally utilitarian functionality. Under-utilised and under-appreciated, they frequently exist in a state of disrepair and dilapidation, often acting as the literal dumping ground for our city.

Vancouver Laneway Garbage. Image Credit. Sam Cameron

Vancouver Laneway Garbage. Image Credit. Sam Cameron

However, all is not lost! Recent community driven initiatives have successfully sought to re-imagine these spaces and highlight the inherent potential retained within them. Through the facilitation of a series of ephemeral placemaking interventions, non-for-profit organizations, such as Livable Laneways Vancouver, have revealed the laneways to be potential spaces for community gathering, celebration, and interaction, as well as places for artistic expression.

Livable Laneways Activation. Image Credit. Livable Laneways Vancouver

Livable Laneways Activation.
Image Credit. Livable Laneways Vancouver

Drawing inspiration from the laneways has not only been limited to community groups. Local entrepreneurs, such as those situated along Blood Alley, in Vancouver’s historical Gastown neighbourhood, have also taken to embracing these peripheral, or otherwise known as marginal, spaces.

This said the City has not been implicit in this growing awareness. In 2009, Council approved laneway housing (LWH) regulations and guidelines, as part of a densification initiative. Since its inception, the City has issued over 1000 permits, throughout the city, yet the program does little to address the quality of the public space beyond the private residential footprint.

Concurrently, Council has also approved a number of neighbourhood specific plans, such at the Mount Pleasant Community Plan (Nov. 2010) and Implementation Plan (Oct. 2013), West End Community Plan (Nov. 2013), and Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan (Mar. 2014). All of the aforementioned policy documents have sought to initiate a process where the laneways are officially recognised as intrinsic public space assets, aiming to encourage the revitalization of pre-identified spaces.

These localised considerations are all well and good, however, the VPSN believes that a more comprehensive approach needs to occur. Examples such as the City of Sydney’s Laneway Revitalisation Strategy and the City of Port Phillip’s (Melbourne region) Activating Laneways Strategy demonstrate the value of adopting such a strategy.

Sydney Lane Neon. Image Credit. ASPECT Studio

Sydney Lane Neon.
Image Credit. ASPECT Studio

Accordingly, in order to realise this process of re-imagination and re-appropriation, VPSN proposes that the City of Vancouver considers the adoption of a Laneway Strategy.

Such a strategy could:

– Acknowledge the important role of laneways and provide a vision of the future of these spaces;

– Present different possibilities associated with residential, commercial, and industrial laneways;

– Help balance the current utilitarian role of laneways (e.g. waste collection and goods movement), with future placemaking opportunities;

– Outline quick-win strategies, such as the assignment of names, increase the number of sanctioned street art walls, and improve safety aspects (e.g. lighting);

– Examine more long-term projects which (1) ensure a more efficient means of waste removal, (2) supports the establishment of commercial enterprises, and (3) endorses infrastructural improvement projects;

– Implement a regulatory framework which readily supports event-based activities and provides clarity around issues of permitting and licensing, while potentially reducing or eliminating fees.

The Big Ideas are 12 Priority Areas we see as an early release of the VPSN Manifesto on public space policy. We’ve made online access to the Routemap 2012-2014 and the original Manifesto 2008-2011.To learn more about this initiative and to get involved, please write us an email.

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