Although Toronto’s laneways form an important part of our public realm, they are often designed as utilitarian spaces and can feel dirty and unsafe. There are key improvements that can help to change this – things like good paving, lighting, greening, public art, and good maintenance and management practices.

But the most successful laneways also have another key ingredient: they are designed in response to their local contexts, by local stakeholders who know them best.

Why bother collaborating?  

Collaborative design draws on the observations, expertise and needs of all users, which helps turn laneways into welcoming, accessible spaces that are unique and loved by their communities. Collaboration helps to:

  • Foster a sense of community through working relationships and social connections between BIAs, business owners, residents, community groups, civic organizations and more;

  • Strengthen understanding and cooperation between city staff and local stakeholders;

  • Create well-integrated, flexible public spaces that serve the needs of their communities; and

  • Create dynamic, distinctive spaces that act as a draw to community members and visitors alike.

This collaboration how-to guide leads you step-by-step through the planning, design and implementation process that The Laneway Project uses to create locally-unique, community-centred improvements to laneways throughout Toronto. Each step features an applied example drawn from one of four projects: Ramsden Park Road Master Plan, Danforth Village Laneway Revitalization, Nicholson Lane Revitalization and Light Up the Laneways.

While projects range from targeted revitalizations focused on a single tool, such as new lighting fixtures or murals, to full-scale revitalization master plans, we always use a variation of the process outlined here in partnership and collaboration with the local community members who care about and use the spaces. See below for a summary of steps to inspire your next laneway project.

A summary of our step-by-step guide

This page is a summary of the key steps to take as you prepare for, plan and implement your laneway revitalization project. For more detailed steps, useful links, and helpful examples please download our complete Laneway Collaboration Guide.

Local community stakeholders discuss laneway lighting, CR Katrina Afonso

Local community stakeholders discuss laneway lighting, CR Katrina Afonso

1. Identify and Connect with Project Stakeholders
The first important step when planning a laneway improvement project is to identify the groups and individuals who should be at the table. Draw up a list of active local organizations that use the laneway and can give insight into how it works - such as BIAs, residents associations, community and civic organizations, local representatives, schools, religious centres, arts organizations and property owners. Invite them to be part of developing a new vision and plan for the laneway.

It’s also important to identify the city divisions with jurisdiction over the project. Transportation Services (and in particular its Beautiful Streets team) works with traffic management, streetscape and other public realm improvements; Street Art Toronto supports the addition of street art murals facing the city’s rights-of-way and parks; Parks, Forestry and Recreation has responsibility for the City’s parks (which often border laneways); and Community Planning, within City Planning, creates and manages the application of urban design and secondary plan guidelines in our neighbourhoods. Each of these stakeholders will be vital to developing a robust laneway revitalization plan, and is indispensable to its successful implementation, so make sure to engage with them early, positively and consistently.

2. Analyze Your Site
Organize a series of visits to your laneway – as a group if possible – at various times of the day, evening and week to record its current conditions and use patterns. Be sure to note things like its edge conditions or boundaries, connections to adjacent spaces, surrounding uses, traffic levels and flow (pedestrian, bicycle, car and truck), sun and wind access, user demographics, common activities and level of maintenance. Compile all of your observations into a recorded overview of the existing site.

Brainstorming laneway paving ideas for Ramsden Park Road, CR Katrina Afonso

Brainstorming laneway paving ideas for Ramsden Park Road, CR Katrina Afonso

3. Develop a Vision
Organize a community Visioning Workshop to review the site analysis and develop a vision for your laneway’s revitalization that responds to the assets, opportunities and challenges identified. Create an invitation and circulate it to the local organizations and individuals identified in Step 1, along with the recorded site overview. Ask community members to post the workshop invitation locally and send it out more widely via their email lists.

At this visioning stage, it works best to stay focused on key goals and elements in order to create an overall framework for your laneway revitalization rather than plan details. For example, in response to an observation that a laneway feels unsafe for pedestrians, you can set a broader goal of improving multi-modal traffic management and safety for all users in the space. This will form part of the key goals or principles of your revitalization.

4. Lay out your options
Compile a list of the key project goals agreed on by workshop participants. List under each goal the potential spatial and logistical actions. For example, to create a clean and beautiful space you can consider working with adjacent property owners to build waste enclosures for their garbage bins or consolidating and arranging more frequent waste pickup.

It’s also advisable to include under each potential action key considerations such as the level of complexity, timeline, cost and whether there are permits or other permissions required. Once you have compiled this information, circulate an invitation to a community Options Workshop to the local organizations and individuals identified in Step 1.

Bloordale laneway community meeting, CR Katrina Afonso

Bloordale laneway community meeting, CR Katrina Afonso

5. Prioritize
Organize a community Options Workshop to review the potential spatial and logistical actions listed in Step 4. Ask stakeholders to assign a level of priority to each action, taking into account the key considerations as well as the action’s expected effect in relation to the overall goals agreed on in Step 3.

It’s also advisable to prepare an online survey to send out more widely in your community, via the mailing lists of the local organizations and individuals, to make sure that those not able to come to the workshop can still be part of the process. This helps to provide a complete picture of your community’s priorities as you plan your laneway revitalization, as well as building a community-wide sense of ownership of the space.

6. Develop a Plan
Using the actions ranked as having a high and medium-high priority by the majority of respondents, lay out a plan for your laneway revitalization. It’s advisable to create a master plan drawing, and if possible a person-eye view of the transformed space – these will help to explain the final revitalization plan to community stakeholders, city staff, potential funders, and the consultants such as landscape architects and civil engineers who will create detailed designs for higher-complexity plan elements like paving, lighting, and built-in furniture.

Make sure to include both physical and organizational or logistical components in your plan. For example, to coordinate restaurant waste pickup schedules, you will need to arrange agreements rather than physical changes. These non-physical elements can be noted in a checklist to accompany the master plan drawing.

Ramsden Park Road master plan, CR Cassandra Alves

Ramsden Park Road master plan, CR Cassandra Alves

7. Develop a Budget
List all of the inputs required to implement your plan, as well as quantities (area covered or number of items). These can be refined later, but should be detailed enough to ensure that your budget is fairly accurate. As in Step 6, make sure to include both physical and non-physical inputs – in this case detailed design and installation as well as materials. Research prices and obtain quotes for each item.

8. Fundraise
Funding is absolutely essential to the successful implementation of your revitalization project. Numerous funding mechanisms are available, ranging from grants and crowd-funding to in-kind sponsorship and Community Benefit funds, and you will likely use two or more of them in combination to fund different aspects of your project. See our complete collaboration guide for tips on fundraising and a list of laneway grant options in Toronto.

Solar lighting installation in Luttrell Loop Lane, CR Katrina Afonso

Solar lighting installation in Luttrell Loop Lane, CR Katrina Afonso

9. Plan your Implementation
A workplan is an essential tool for your laneway revitalization project. Using the plan that you developed in Step 6 as a foundation, list out the major tasks and minor sub-tasks required to implement each element. Attach a completion date and assign responsibility for management to a member of your project team. Don’t worry if you don’t have all of the timeline information immediately available – your initial estimate can be corrected as you move forward and gain more information.

Keep in mind that you may need to phase implementation over a few months or even years, depending on the complexity of your project. Add your itemized budget information to your implementation plan so you can see and track all of your implementation details in one place. Find a sample implementation plan with integrated budget columns, from the Nicholson Lane Revitalization project, in our complete Laneway Collaboration Guide.

10. Obtain Permissions and Permits
Since Toronto’s laneways are publicly owned, but bordered by private properties, it is quite likely that the implementation of your laneway revitalization will require a patchwork of permissions and permits to complete. Any alterations being made to the public right-of-way, such as paving; overhanging elements, such as light fixtures; and temporary encroachments during the construction period will require permits and coordination with some or all of the city divisions listed in Step 1.

Any alterations to adjacent properties, such as new planters, wall murals and light fixtures, and logistical improvements such as to waste management and maintenance practices, will require the explicit buy-in and permission of the relevant property owners. Consider having property owners sign a permission form to formalize their buy-in.

Luttrell Loop Lane greening and painting day, CR Katrina Afonso

Luttrell Loop Lane greening and painting day, CR Katrina Afonso

11. Implement
Once you have your plans, permissions and funding in place, you’re ready to begin working through the steps and actions outlined in your implementation plan. This can take place on community construction days, as shown for the Danforth Village Laneway Revitalization, or through a combination of community and professional efforts, as will be the case if your plans call for larger-scale paving or lighting work. As you progress be sure to schedule regular check-ins with your project team, as well as with your councillor and relevant city staff, to monitor progress and share tips and information.

12. Celebrate with a Laneway Party
As you achieve the big milestones of your project’s implementation – and especially once the entire project is complete – make sure to take time to celebrate your achievements as a community and project team. Throwing a community block party, large or small, in your newly revitalized laneway is a great way to enjoy the space together, share stories, and appreciate what you’ve accomplished! Our How To Throw a Laneway Event guide provides key information and advice on how to host a successful celebration in your laneway.

This how-to guide was made possible by the generous support of a City of Toronto BIA Innovation Grant, awarded jointly to the Ossington BIA and Bloordale BIA.