At turns terrifying and desolate or functional and hectic, alleyways occupy an interesting space in our cities and collective imaginations. Rarely, however, are these accidental spaces considered inviting. City planners around the world are changing this, reclaiming these passageways that have long been used for seedier activities or simply, utilitarian delivery and garbage pick up.
Thankfully in Vancouver, the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA) has taken the initiative to re-imagine and transform some of the city’s alleys into friendlier places.
In collaboration with DVBIA, architecture firm HCMA, has been helping lead the charge as part of the initiative “More Awesome Now”. The first project undertaken was the 2016 redesign of an alley between Granville and Seymour, just North of Dunsmuir. By painting this drab, underutilized lane shocking pink, yellow and purple, the city now has a pedestrian-friendly passageway that entices people who live, work and study in the neighbourhood to have some fun during their breaks or commute. The impact has been nothing short of remarkable; the pedestrian foot traffic has nearly tripled and the number if female pedestrians increased by 50% (HCMA).
More recently, HCMA continued making Vancouver “More Awesome Now” by reviving Ackery Alley, located next to the Orpheum between Smythe and Robson, Granville and Seymour. The result is a visual and audible stunner. Successfully funded through a Kickstarter campaign, local artists painted psychedelic curves along the alley’s walls while Tangible Interactive was commissioned to create an interactive light and sound installation named FIELD. The installation features 35 lights under the Orpheum overpass. The lights are sensor controlled and attached to a sound piece so when people pass under the exhibit, various sounds are made in time to their movements.
Let’s hope this project is only the beginning. There is no disputing that making public spaces socially inclusive and interesting contributes to a city’s vibrancy by engaging citizens in a unique and organic way, encouraging social interaction and general livability.