This is another post in our new KAAV LIVING series providing tips from city dwellers about how to best enjoy urban life. Contributing authors are welcome. This one was prepared with Sandro Zamparini, designer at Private Studio, who enjoys exploring Toronto’s laneways.  

One of the most hidden, yet interesting things about Toronto is its laneways. I wasn’t really aware of them until my husband and I purchased our first home, which backed onto a laneway. All of a sudden I became acutely aware of this interesting element of Toronto’s urban fabric.

What Were Laneways For?

Laneways were originally created to maximize the street frontage of residential and commercial buildings by providing rear access. In working-class homes they were used mostly for kitchen garbage and outhouse waste removal. In more affluent settings, their role grew to include access for live-in staff in coach houses and horse and carriages. For more about Toronto laneways check out: Site unseen: Laneway Architecture & Urbanism in Toronto edited by Brigitte Shim and Donald Chong.

Today, laneways are mainly used for storage, cars, sheds and garages. But what fascinates me is you can also find works of art, unexpected green spaces, community gathering places, small businesses and even detached homes! With time, residential spaces built in laneways may become more common as groups like Lanescape work to make laneway suites a realistic opportunity.

Inspiring Laneways

Time will tell, but for an intrepid laneway adventurer like Sandro Zamparini, their present form offers inspiration for urban trends (including hair styles, fashion, and his ‘AlleyGirl’ creation), as well as great canvases for urban art. Curious? Here are a couple of Sandro’s favourite laneway haunts as well as a bonus laneway for the less intrepid.

Ossington Lane runs north south, just west of Ossington, north of Queen Street. Mixed use development on the east side, residential properties on the west. The laneway has lots of colourful art and tags.

St. Mathias Place runs north south, just west of Claremont, between Crocker Avenue and Dundas Street. Some art and tags are visible at the north end. There is a church near the south end. Less foot traffic than the Ossington Lane.

Rush Lane is probably Toronto’s most well-known laneway. Not only has it been the backdrop for numerous Rick Mercer rants on the Rick Mercer Report, it was also featured in the New York Times. Located south of Queen Street, it runs east-west between Spadina and Portland, and then west of Bathurst Street. Lots and lots of graffiti art to enjoy here.

Toronto’s urban laneways provide interesting and new possibilities for our crowded city. “It’s like there’s a whole bonus city, hiding just out of view of the places you know,” writes Edward Keenan. Organizations like The Laneway Project are working to make them great community spaces.

From a homeowner’s perspective, laneways provide interesting opportunities for homeowners to do more with their land. Also, a rear laneway can provide additional access to the property when renovating or rebuilding, which can be very helpful and can even reduce the cost. Something to consider when shopping for an urban home with potential!