Toronto is an ever-changing city that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. The population of this asphalt jungle has increased by hundreds of thousands over the past several years, and with that, an endless amount of condos, restaurants, and pop-ups have taken Toronto by storm. It’s safe to say that nearly every square inch of this city is being used for all it’s worth, or at least that’s the way it seems to the everyday person.
For Michelle Senayah, an urban designer and visionary, there’s one part of the city with untapped potential she simply can’t ignore – our alleyways. In fact, Michelle sees such potential in the neglected laneways and back alleys of Toronto that she has made it her life’s mission to transform them through her non-for-profit organization The Laneway Project.
The Laneway Project is a planning, urban design, and placemaking firm that is dedicated to revitalizing laneways and transforming them into positive public spaces that serve as assets to the city. As the Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Laneway Project, Michelle works closely with city staff to spur policy changes that help transform laneways into vibrant, accessible spaces.
She explained, “A big part of our work is lowering design speeds in alleyways through having public art and having active entrances so you can see people on bike, on foot, with strollers, and in cars. We also work on incorporating softer elements, like getting greening in there and proper lighting, which makes the space feel person-friendly.”
Like many entrepreneurs, Michelle’s journey into the start-up world began with her becoming aware of nuance. The untapped potential of laneways became glaringly obvious to her after years of doing urban design and landscape work for various reputable architectural consultancies. Michelle stated that “The reason my co-founder and I founded The Laneway Project came from, as with any sector you’re in, an awareness of more detail/nuance. On one hand, you hear oh we’re developing so much; we don’t have enough park space – what are we going to do? On the other hand, you see these spaces that look publicly owned, but no one’s doing anything with them. This is actually an unoccupied niche in the planning/urban design/urban development space and certainly in the city building space.”
The Laneway Project has grown by leaps and bounds since Michelle started it a little over five years ago, and city officials are looking at laneways in a way they never have before.
She emphasized that “Five years ago, no one was paying attention to laneways. At the beginning we were just making the case for them, pointing out that you need to pay attention to these spaces. Now there’s going to be some stuff going before council in September that’s going to go directly to motion. Every year there’s new terms of workflow and revenue, we’ve at least doubled. This year it’s going to be almost three times last time. It’s totally an idea whose time has come.”
Michelle and The Laneway Project’s success is proof that if you believe in something enough, it’ll end up working out. That being said, Michelle also put a lot of hard work into getting her passion project off the ground and her best piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs that are in the same spot she was five years ago is to, “Do your research. That includes not only Googling things but actually speaking to people.”
As for Michelle’s favourite part about working out of Project Spaces, which she became a member of a few years back, it’s definitely the social aspect.
She explained, “I like that first and foremost, it’s a workspace so you can work here, but it’s also social. That’s something I find the other co-working spaces in the city lack.”
The future is bright for The Laneway Project, and they’re going to be publicly launching the three projects they worked on this summer on September 24th, September 26th, and October 1st. All three of these projects involve the installation of new murals, planters, and light fixtures into laneways at various locations in the city. To find out more about these launches and fun future projects, follow The Laneway Project.