So What’s the Deal With Laneways?
Toronto’s laneways are weird. Most people put a ton of effort making sure their beautifully restored Victorian townhouse has an immaculately maintained façade. Take a stroll down the adjacent laneway and you’re likely to see a row of slanted shacks and concrete sheds reminiscent of bomb shelters. The juxtaposition between the front and back is striking. Conventional wisdom in Toronto is that when it comes to houses, the most important thing is what’s on the inside, followed by what’s out in front, with the back lagging behind.
Coming into fashion in the 19th century, laneways and the structures lining them served a variety of functions, as access routes for coal suppliers, coach houses in the ritzier neighbourhoods, storage sheds, and craftsmen’s shops. In recent years, laneway structures have been used as garages if they’re used at all.
A New Way of Looking at Things
Now people are beginning to rethink laneways. With everyone social distancing it can be hard to find quiet places to get outside without using our still crowded sidewalks. Laneways are a great alternative to a street for anyone looking for a nice midday walk, providing quiet away from the hustle and bustle. They’ve got a really unique vibe, with garage doors covered in funny and sometimes beautiful graffiti, and a cool grit that can a bit post-apocalyptic. Oddly enough, there can be a bit of a serenity to them, as spring starts to wake up the city’s plants, the vine covered sheds can seem a little fairy like too. There’s a lot to these hidden gems.
The City sees them as an untapped resource in dealing with housing affordability. Zoning codes have long made turning laneway garages into houses difficult but as the City tries to make housing more available, they’ve begun loosening their restrictions. Now the City even offers forgivable loans to people building laneway suites along with development charge deferral. Housing prices in Toronto are always a pain and for people looking to get their foot in the door of real estate laneways can be a trendy alternative to condos. With the incentives the City is offering, many ma-and-pop landlords are looking to cash in on their backyards newfound value.
With more laneway houses popping up, the City is looking to get even more creative with the other side of the house. Following the enthusiasm around laneway housing, Toronto’s Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods initiative is looking into proposals of allowing people to build houses in backyards without laneways along with a new pilot project in Beaches-East York. Using city owned land the Initiative and Councilor Brad Bradford hope to construct a series of midsized homes to serve a model for future home construction in Toronto. They haven’t broken ground yet but they’ll likely look like some of these:
These are just examples, as the City moves forward with the pilot project and new spaces open up we’re bound to see people get creative. I can’t wait to watch a new city spring up in our backyards.