Photo: Robert B. Moffatt/Flickr
They run through the city like veins, providing access to private parking and, at least at the moment, little else.
But this week at the inaugural NXT City Talks event at the Gladstone Hotel, Off the Ground — which centred on unlocking and improving public space — Toronto’s 322 kilometres of laneways (and what they could offer the city) were a recurring topic.
“I think one of the great untapped potentials in the city is the hundreds and hundreds of kilometres of laneways that we have,” said Ken Greenberg, of Greenberg Consultants.
Greenberg knows a thing or two about reimagining aging infrastructure. He’s currently working on Under Gardiner, a project to redevelop a 1.75-kilometre strip of land under Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway, turning it into a place for shaded farmer’s markets, exhibition halls, and more.
He was responding to moderator Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO of CivicAction, who asked the four-person panel, “If you could your hands on any public space in the city and play with it… what would pick and why?”
The former City of Toronto director of urban design and architecture name-dropped a number of experimental initiatives cropping up in laneways throughout the city, such as The Laneway Project, a grassroots initiative that beautifies laneways through murals and greenery, for example.
But he also told the sold-out crowd inside the Gladstone Hotel’s Ballroom what a more unified, municipality-driven program could mean for Toronto.
“If the City would actually do something significant, a network-wide acknowledgement of the power of the laneways, everything from laneway housing… to simply seeing them as an alternative set of public spaces… that could have an enormous beneficial impact at almost no cost,” said Greenberg at the event.
Joining Greenberg at the NXT City Talks were Sarah Heynen, CEO of Evergreen, which is working to create a sprawling urban park, Mark Garner, the Downtown Yonge BIA’s executive director and chief of staff, and Steven Dale, project director at Don Valley Cable Car, a proposal to link the Danforth and Evergreen Brickworks with a suspended cable car network.
At the event, hosted by NXT City Prize, an annual award launched in 2014 to recognize young people’s innovative approaches to city building, Garner agreed with Greenberg.
“Laneways are the future of connectivity to space,” he said, also answering Palvetzian. “They need to be used as part of that transportation network [of roads and streetscapes], and they need to be cleaned and usable and programmable because that’s the space we need.”
Every year, 42 million people walk through Yonge and Dundas, says Garner, demonstrating the need to make use of every bit of free space. “It’s not getting less, it’s getting worse.”