Reclaiming our back lanes from blacktop – Metro US

Reclaiming our back lanes from blacktop

carlyn yandle/for metro vancouver

A reclaimed laneway in Kitsilano makes use of old concrete as a mosaic of pavers between a grid that allows vegetation and vehicles to co-exist.

“We’ve all but handed over some of the most valuable land in Canada to unsavoury activities and filth that come with dripping, stinking, behemoth dumpsters.”

If Vancouver’s competing household garbage-pickup companies had their way, our city lanes would be wide strips of blacktop bordered by super-size trash bins for efficient mechanized dumping.

In fact, that’s pretty much the direction the city has been going the last half century.

Neighbourhood narrow gravel back lanes have slowly been blacktopped for ease of mammoth trucks.

But that shortsightedness has led to a new set of problems: impatient commuters careening through alleys in hot pursuit of shortcuts; rain that can’t reach the soil and feed plants, overloading storm drains; the loss of valuable greenspace so important to offsetting CO2 emissions.

Things are more disastrous in downtown back alleys. They’re so inhospitable, we’ve all but handed over some of the most valuable land in Canada to unsavoury activities and filth that comes with all the dripping, stinking, behemoth dumpsters.

Giant trash containers are not only irresistible to rodents and graffiti taggers but their mere size conveys the idea that there’s no need to limit our garbage.

And what do we do about too much garbage? We just pay for more frequent pick-up service.

Poorly lit, festering downtown alleys are unhealthy, risky places to walk through on our own; no wonder it’s easier for the city to continue to turn its back on most of our back lanes.

That garbage-centred thinking has to end. Downtown lanes could be put to better use as pedestrian-only corridors that access more apartments and shops. The off-street rental rates could allow for wider commercial possibilities, like small mom-and-pop businesses selling anything from kabobs to stationery.

Dumpsters could be stowed within buildings, behind garage-door covers, wheeled out during trash collection, which could happen outside of business hours, and all on the same day.

I never would have considered the idea of reclaiming our disastrous downtown lanes had I not spent time wandering the narrow thoroughfares(better known as pedestrian zones) of some very livable, progressive European and Asian cities.

Where we have stink and fear, they have vibrant enclaves of charming hole-in-the-wall shops linked by strings of festive lights.

Experiencing the alternative makes the seemingly impossible possible. The same goes with the “Country Lane” adjacent to the city’s compost demonstration garden at 6th and Maple in Kitsilano. Walking that picturesque half-block strip that takes back the green back lane has given me faith that undoing some of that asphalt efficiency isn’t a pipe dream after all.


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