We believe that you see the city in the same way we do, as something that is ours to make.

We believe that you see the everyday elements of the urban commons—sidewalks, boulevards, laneways—not as the final ends of city craft, but as spaces that have yet to be developed into their full potential.

We believe that a lively city is made up of engaged citizens working to transform these perfectly functional spaces into even more exciting, more productive, and more valuable places.

HCMA homepage experiment

So we’ve dedicated our homepage as a digital forum open to anyone with an idea about how to shape change in the urban environment. We’ll weigh every comment you contribute, looking for themes, dreams, and outlandish schemes to compile into usable summaries we can share with everyone. We encourage you to join the conversation—with all its unresolved, and sometimes incompatible, threads still hanging loose at the fringes, waiting to be woven into a different dialogue at another time.

When asked how alleyways could make our city better, you had a lot to say.

Many suggested that we look to other great cities around the world—Melbourne, Australia, for instance—to witness the surprisingly varied ways that alleyways can enrichen city life.

Some of those who responded want to see laneways remain places of free, creative expression. For those people, lanes ought to be explicitly conceived as art galleries—a vast, linear network of wall space available to all artists looking to exhibit their work.

A host of comments paint a picture of the lane as more enticing, more comfortable, more of a place where one might want to dwell: lighting that would create a welcoming atmosphere and help stretch out the night into something wonderful; greenery that would provide an organic complement to the city’s hard surfaces; and bright colours that would enliven the generally muted tones of the built environment. You envision lanes as cleaner spaces that might serve as delightful pedestrian corridors that commuters would actually prefer over their usual routes along the city’s sidewalks.HCMA homepage experiment

Some said they would have the alleys be left just as they are, and were critical of the drive to design new lives for them. This is an important and valid point: there may be real value in understanding the current culture of our lanes, and in preserving the kinds of social and pragmatic functions they serve.

Others see alleyways as places that could literally produce food as tracts of urban farmland. And several people say they imagine lanes becoming more animated commercial zones, bristling with cafés and outdoor markets.
HCMA Alley-Oop Vancouver Laneway

 More Awesome Now – Vancouver Laneway Activations

We share many of these visions on the homepage experiment, and have had the chance to experiment with implementing some of them in our first laneway project—the alley that connects Granville Street with Seymour Street on the south side of Hastings Street.

HCMA alley-oop-google-maps
Having surveyed the patterns of regular use within the lane, we know that spaces like this lie all-but-dormant after business hours—which means there’s a whole half-day of potential new uses these areas can accommodate! We’ve also learned that it’s possible to layer in new kinds of activities during the regular workday without disrupting the practical functions of the laneway. After installing two basketball hoops and painting much of the ground and the walls bright yellow, pink, and orange, the lane has become a new kind of lively and delightful place. We’re now seeing all kinds of people use the alley simultaneously, and at new times of day: the delivery person who needs to haul in large bags of coffee beans to the back door of the café; the language student who wants to shoot a little hoop with her friends during lunchtime; the local businessperson en route to a meeting around the block; the club-goer who wants to kick back with his friends out in the night air; the garbage truck driver who needs to make the weekly dumpster pickup; and the professional photographer looking for a character location for her current shoot. On busy days, this lane is now occupied by various groups of people nearly 24 hours of day.

When we came up with the idea that a few basketball hoops and some paint might extend the uses of the laneway, we could only hope that it would actually become an attractive amenity, a place that people would actually want to be in. We had no idea that perfect strangers would feel comfortable getting a game of pickup basketball going in the lane—not something we’re used to seeing occur in any court of our local parks—or that the brightly-coloured ground and walls would become the backdrop of so many selfies, professional photo shoots, and dance routines. We never imagined that a group of school children would engage one of the laneway regulars, a binner named Rob, in a conversation about his daily activities.

Let’s keep the conversation going, and see what other happy surprises we can generate with a bit of imagination—the city might just love you for it.