How to Turn Neglected Alleyways into Thriving Public Spaces

Want to better your community but don’t know where to start? Enter It’s the Little Things: a weekly Strong Towns podcast that gives you the wisdom and encouragement you need to take the small yet powerful actions that can make your city or town stronger.

It’s the Little Things features Strong Towns Community Builder Jacob Moses in conversation with various guests who have taken action in their own places and in their own ways.

Invite your friends to a trip to downtown or Main Street and you’ll likely visit the usual public spaces. Think parks, pedestrian streets, or market squares.

You visit these places for a reason. Because, as our friends at People for Public Spaces have written, these places generally include four essential characteristics to successful public spaces: they’re accessible, comfortable, active, and sociable.

Picture public spaces in your own community and you likely conjure images that align with these characteristics. Design—not happenstance—encourages you to gather in these public spaces.

Now, compare these characteristics to a less considered space: alleyways. You know the places: the abandoned, narrow stretches that divide buildings, used to store dumpsters or quickly access another street.

As you explore your downtown or main street, you likely disregard these alleyways—and understandably so. By design, most alleyways discourage people from gathering.

But what if that wasn’t the case? What if these alleyways contributed more to the community than storage for dumpsters? What if you could transform these alleyways into more productive uses that created a gathering space for the community while making your neighborhood more financially resilient?

These are the kinds of questions Paul Fast—this episode’s guest and Principal Architect at HCMA, a Canadian architecture and design firm—and his team asked themselves as they observed neighborhoods in Vancouver.

The result: HCMA created More Awesome Now, a tactical urbanism project that reshapes alleyways (or “laneways,” as Vancouverites call them), into engaging, accessible public spaces that contribute to the vibrancy of Vancouver.

And the best part: with a posse and a shared vision, you can revive neglected alleyways in your community and transform them into public spaces for everyone to enjoy.

In this episode, Paul shares how you can revive neglected alleyways in your community, including how to  assess the needs of the neighborhood, how to measure the success of the project, and how to consider all members of the community in your design.