For centuries streets have been the primary factor for how we plan our cities. Today we view the street as a thoroughfare for vehicles and we often believe it has always been this way. The invention of the automobile has greatly impacted the way we move through the city, develop and experience it. Cities revolve around access for vehicles and where they can be parked. However, it hasn’t always been like this. Prior to the 1920’s the streets were for pedestrians to walk and children to play. Cities have gone from no vehicles to millions and now, because of the current pandemic (COVID-19), vehicle use has decreased significantly. In addition, public space has become more in demand then ever before as it has become the only other place people can reside other than their own homes.

Realizing that our new “normal” of living may include social distancing guidelines and an increase in remote jobs it is imperative that we consider a new “normal” for our streets and alleys. If personal vehicles continue to be used less, due to the shift in how we live, what does this mean for the street network of cities? How can streets and alleys be redefined and given new uses? 

My proposal suggests that in the next five years streets will be rethought and alleys will be transformed into a pedestrian network across downtown Vancouver. This network considers connecting bikeways, transit, and green spaces through alleys and empty lots.

Along the alley network each block of alley would be redesigned differently as each block has different urban conditions, such as surrounding building height, uses, and building program. There are three general design categories that each block of alley would fall under (Urban, Urban Forest, and Play). The majority of Vancouver’s alleys fall under the “Urban” category; therefore, one block of alley under this category was chosen to be redesigned.

The design looks at introducing 10 interventions throughout the alley. These interventions use
carved out spaces between and under buildings that are currently being used for service
vehicle parking or garbage bins. Current uses would be shifted to underground parkades as fewer vehicles would be using them. In addition, guidelines were proposed in order to replicate the alley design throughout the other sections of alleys along the network.

This exploration found that each alley has unique conditions that give them the ability to become treasures woven throughout the city. As Jane Jacobs stated, alleys are network connectors for the city and re-imagining them can make for healthier cities.

John Grottenberg
Chris Macdonald [CHAIR]
Blair Satterfield