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CASE STUDY: LEVERAGING OUR LANEWAYS

Background

To mark the DVBIA’s 25th anniversary in 2015, we conducted a large-scale public engagement process called Re-Imagine Downtown Vancouver. This program engaged over 11,000 individuals who provided ideas on how they wanted downtown Vancouver to evolve over the next 25 years. Key themes that emerged from the report directly informed the DVBIA’s four-year strategic plan and featured a great emphasis on public space, and in particular, underutilized alleyways.

The report found that people wanted Downtown Vancouver to be home to a connected series of “activated alleyways” that are welcoming spaces with lots of “hidden gems” to discover, including galleries, restaurants, and art walls where visual storytelling are welcomed. In a city with a growing sense of isolation, severe land limitations, and scarce public space, this was a huge opportunity to add vibrancy and increase opportunities for engagement and connection downtown.

The DVBIA’s resulting work in the enhancement, activation and promotion of laneways aims to entice the public to use these revamped spaces by creating an engaging and inviting space that is accessible to all.

Objective

During the Re-imagine Downtown Vancouver process, we discovered that the downtown area could see a 30% increase in public space if alleys were included. One challenge associated with delivering on that realization was perception. Laneways are typically seen as undesirable spaces, and as pragmatic necessities for commercial deliveries and underground parkade access. To overcome that and make use of these underutilized spaces, a revitalization needed to be executed.

The DVBIA collaborated with the City of Vancouver and HCMA Architecture + Design to form the collective “More Awesome Now”, with the shared vision of activating and enhancing downtown’s laneways. After completion of the More Awesome Now projects, the DVBIA continued to build out the laneway enhancement initiative, adding the objective of delivering one laneway per year into the organization’s strategic goals.

The objectives of our laneway projects are as follows:

  • Reimagine the laneways as spontaneous destinations instead of areas to avoid, through creative placement and the addition of art, interactive installations, and programming
  • Reclaim laneways to be more inviting for pedestrians and people, a maximum of 30% in the downtown area
  • Create an inclusive environment that is representative of those who use it
  • Change perspective/feelings towards laneways by presenting an accurate statement of its activities
  • Capitalize on underutilized public space by transforming and animating the “in-between” spaces
  • Beautify and bring people together inaccessible areas usually reserved for deliveries and commercial services
  • Engage with local stakeholders to create an invested community of stewards from concept to implementation

Strategy

For our first laneway transformation, an additional objective was to prove that it could actually be done. There was a perception in certain City departments and among the property owners that there were hundreds of vehicles and no pedestrians in the lane. We had a student stand in the lane to take measurements and we discovered, in fact, there were only 6 cars an hour and 30 pedestrians an hour with no conflicts between the two. Some of the vehicles were just using the space illegally, to park near the coffee shops or as a short cut. This information helped changed people’s perception about the possibility of creating a space for cars and vehicles. It also created a great benchmark comparison once the laneway transformation was complete to measure its impact.

Our implementation strategy occurred in the following stages:

  1. Site Reconnaissance
  2. Pre- Transformation Measurement
  3. Concept Development
  4. Stakeholder Partnership and Engagement
  5. Permitting
  6. Implementation
  7. Branding & Launch
  8. Post-Transformation Measurements
  9. Activation and Stewardship Engagement
  10. Maintenance Plan and Exit Strategy

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

  • Businesses backing onto the lane
  • The distinct properties or buildings
  • Which tenants face the lane?
  • How do the properties and tenants use the lane?
  • What time are various services such as waste, recycling, and organics pick up?
  • Number of dumpsters in the lane
  • Number of waste haulers operating out of the lane, based on company names on dumpsters
  • Time-lapse of the lane to see behaviours and partners around the clock

Outcomes

Revitalizing our laneways has led to an increased public space footprint and increased pedestrian usage of our laneways (foot traffic nearly tripled after the launch of Alley Oop) plus an overall improvement in the quality of time spent in laneways for those who were already frequenting them.

It has also been shown to decrease activities that result in a negative perception of alleys and laneways, like smoking.

Additionally, women are more likely to increasingly use the space (50% of the users at Alley Oop are women) as the public art and bright colours promote the perception that alleys are safe places, and positive activities such as interactions with the installations create a sense of trust in the other users. Functional use of the spaces have all been maintained as the laneways are still all accessible to vehicles and maintenance.

Connectivity

As well as becoming unique destinations in themselves, the reclamation of the laneways also creates improved walkability and connectivity for bikes and other modes of transportation, rather than serving vehicles alone. The spaces created also provide new locations for informal physical activity and recreation like jogging, basketball and dance beneath the FIELD installation in Ackery’s Alley.

Event Space

On top of creating a more engaging space that is otherwise passive, these newly repurposed laneways can now also serve as an event space for pop-ups and community gatherings. Through working with the City of Vancouver, and the other engaged partners who steward the lanes, events like Public Disc, Just for Laughs Comedy Festival and live music performances have made new use of the space.

Laneway Leaders

Outside of laneway usage, the transformations are also a symbol of downtown Vancouver’s progressiveness and a catalyst to stimulate and encourage change elsewhere. Alley Oop, in particular, has become an international icon featuring in multiple music videos, most notably for K-Pop band TWICE, garnering over 400 million Youtube views.

Knowledge sharing through the comprehensive laneway guide also allows for the widespread realization of the shared vision many communities have for their laneways.