The city has agreed to launch a pilot project in three locations to look at improving back laneways. It’s to make building secondary housing like garage or garden suites more attractive.
“It is chicken and egg,” said Kalen Anderson, the director of planning coordination for the city. “If people start living facing into the alleys their expectations are going to change. At the same time if you make investments and you treat them differently this might spur people into thinking these are places for living, instead of just places to park your car and putting out your garbage.”
Those investments include enhanced lighting, less garbage, and a safer feel to the back alleys, and will require interest from existing homeowners and the development community.
“Now we have a specific direction to explore and one of the first steps that we’ll take is to call out to communities and say ‘hey we’ve got a really cool opportunity on our hands. Is anybody interested in putting up their hand?’ And I’m quite confident we’ll see a few hands go up,” Anderson said.
Even simple things like giving the fences and other amenities a good coat of paint can bring improvement. “We’ve seen a little bit of that in commercial areas and how you can transform your alleys into legitimate public realm. Potentially that can happen in residential neighbourhoods as well.”
“It can really transform what would have previously been an underutilized piece of our infrastructure. Literally, (turning) the back alley into a usable interesting public space. So as our city begins to urbanize more and there’s more gentle density coming, a lot of cities have been noticing that we have this huge asset on our hands which is essentially another miniature roadway network that we’ve never been treating as such.”
“Deal with a laneway as a residential setting,” Kevin Taft urged the committee to not rush into a final decision. “Require walkway access from the front street which is not in the current proposal. But better yet, take the time to get it right,” the former Alberta Liberal leader said. He was there as a private citizen urging Edmonton to improve laneway conditions, similar to what he has seen in Vancouver. There, Taft said, the city supplies garbage cans to keep laneways attractive.
No locations are being considered yet, Anderson said, after the Urban Planning Committee of City Council made the request for the pilot. It’s taken two years to get to this point and it’s expected the first aspects of the plan might become known this summer, but Anderson said she wouldn’t be surprised if it goes into next spring.