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Toronto's laneways to take centre stage in 2016

Formerly home to rats, raccoons, garbage and broken streetlights, Toronto’s myriad laneways are increasingly being seen as untapped sources of public space.

O'Keefe Lane, near Ryerson University, is one of the many laneways in Toronto slated for revitalization in 2016.

Courtesy Stephanie Stereotis

O'Keefe Lane, near Ryerson University, is one of the many laneways in Toronto slated for revitalization in 2016.

It’s going to be a big year for little streets in Toronto.

A number of local laneway projects are set to come to fruition in 2016, and even more are underway, say those involved in amping up the city’s alleys.

“2016 is going to be the year where the evolution of our laneways lands at the forefront of our public realm strategy,” said Downtown Yonge BIA chair Mark Garner, who’s heading up the revitalization of O’Keefe Lane near Ryerson University.

“There’s a growing consensus that our laneways are an under-used resource and we need to be thinking more intelligently about them,” said Michelle Senayah, an organizer with the grassroots Laneway Project. “It’s really encouraging.”

Senayah and her colleagues spent much of 2015 holding laneway consultations with residents and stakeholders across the city. As a result, the Laneway Project is poised to unveil “master plans” for revitalizing three alleyways in different corners of Toronto.

One of those, Reggae Lane, received a facelift earlier this year, complete with a mural commemorating the neighbourhood’s musical history. It’s already being touted as a blueprint for revitalizing local laneways, Senayah said.

Over at O’Keefe, the BIA, along with Ryerson, Covenant House and KingSett Capital, has already spruced up the laneway with new lights, a paint job and a small garden run by culinary students. They’re currently hosting a design competition to plan the lane’s future development.

“Do we green it? Do we enclose it? Other cities have great laneways. Can we maybe borrow something from them?” Garner said, citing cities like Melbourne, Vancouver and Chicago, which have had success animating their alleyways with green spaces and commercial activity.

Garner was adamant that as more condo towers sprout up along Yonge Street, the city will have to incorporate lanes like O’Keefe into the public realm or risk overwhelming the area with pedestrian traffic.

“If we can start doing small things and showing progress, it makes it easier for the bigger projects down the road,” he said. “But we don’t want to wait five years for the change. Let’s do this now.”

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