A Better Use for the Laneway
The humble laneway is so ubiquitous in North American cities (and some beyond) that most people rarely question its purpose. In most cases, that’s to store cars and garbage (and occasionally serve as a toilet). But cities are waking up to the idea that laneways can be transformed into places for people. Depending on local needs, these transformations can take many forms – from contributing green space in under-served neighbourhoods to adding a splash of colour to a montonous part of the city. Improved well-being for nearby residents, storm water retention, reduced traffic speeds, and greater economic vibrancy are some of the potential benefits. Equally important, the interventions can reframe the way people view streets and lanes – from corridors for fast moving vehicles to public spaces. These transformations also face challenges however. Waste management, parking strategies and intensive public engagement are vital to successful laneway transformations. To this end, the Dutch “woonerf” provides a promising template. Using this model, transformations don’t have to expensive or time-intensive. A recent Spacing article outlined the benefits of woonerf-style lanes in North America, noting that paint and pallets can be used to rapidly reshape a laneway at low cost. From a lighter, quicker, cheaper strategy, a full woonerf approach, or another strategy, cities have a range of opportunities available. As densification and land value in central urban areas continue to increase, so to does demand on public space. People deserve more, and making the most of existing laneways is an easy place to start.