BY JESSICA PETT
Most people don’t even bat an eye at the boring passageways or alleys in and around the city they live in. One not-for-profit organization in Toronto has set out to change that way of thinking.
Michelle Senayah and her co-director Ariana Cancelli of Toronto’s Laneway Project are taking on the responsibility to change the way citizens of Toronto view the city’s laneways. According to thelanewayproject.com, these alleyways have untapped potential and when planned and designed effectively, can be an integral part of the public realm.
An idea that has been executed in several other cities around the world, including Melbourne, Seattle and Chicago, it is now emerging in one of the most populated cities in Canada. The Laneway Project connects with community, groups, organizations and city officials in an effort to change the face of the sometimes scary walkways throughout Toronto.
Senayah and Cancelli were noticing the surplus of uncultivated spaces around Toronto and wondered why nothing had ever been done to change them.
“Over the course of the other projects that we were doing in the city, we became aware of all the space around us; we were noticing these laneways that weren’t being used, weren’t doing a lot and we just wondered why,” she said.
On Sept. 27 the Laneway Project hosted Toronto’s first “laneway crawl,” where over 30 different groups lead different activities along a kilometre and a half of laneways in Bloordale. Some of the activities along the Bloordale Laneway Crawl included a kite-making station, live garage mural painting, dance demonstrations and workshops, as well as food trucks, and live music.
Susan Levinsky from 18 Blocks, an online neighbourhood hub, ran the kite-making station, which engaged the children who walked through that day, allowing them to experience their neighbourhood in a way that is more meaningful to them. Levinsky was pleased with the reaction the event received from the community during the crawl.
“On that particular day it was great to watch the Bloordale community take that space and really own it and sort of transform it into something that will foster that community engagement going forward,” she said.
Another participant in the Bloordale Laneway Crawl was the Steps Initiative, which has a mandate to bring people into public spaces through art. Vera Belazelkoska, the manager of community projects for the STEPS Initiative, whose passion is to use underappreciated spaces through art, was interested in how laneways could do just that.
“I just feel like they are such an untapped resource. They sometimes lack a sense of safety because of vandalism, etc., so I think they could definitely be advanced,” she said.
“If people are already going to be using some of these throughways we better make them more safe and interesting and interactive.”
Christine Walker, owner of Walker Dance Studios, created a dance routine to Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk which she and other dancers performed throughout the Bloordale event. She plans to continue her relationship with The Laneway Project because she has so many ideas for future events.
“It was nice, we’re creating a community and I think a lot of people are looking for that especially in this ever-growing economy and city like Toronto. It’s a great thing and I would love to be a part of it, I would love to take it to the next level. There are so many ideas I could create for the next one. It was a great community event and I support it all the way,” said Walker.
The idea of changing the back alleyways of this massive city can seem daunting, one that many haven’t even considered, however, the price of positive community relationships is what drives The Laneway Project to continue doing what they do.
Senayah said the project has been quite a success so far and is surprised that there haven’t been any naysayers.
“Everyone has been eager to work with us and to see positive change in the city’s laneways,” she said.
There are more than 2,400 laneways in Toronto. The Laneway Project is on a mission to tackle as many of those spaces as possible. Several more laneway events will take place in the new year; a full list can be found at www.thelanewayproject.ca.