Students discover back lanes

April 28, 2005, vol. 33, no. 1

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There are more than 30 kilometres of back lanes in Vancouver's downtown core.

A group of Simon Fraser University students is urging Vancouver to rediscover and re-imagine its back streets. They call it Vancouver's second city.

The 20 students, all members of SFU's undergraduate semester in dialogue, have launched a poster campaign to encourage a re-evaluation of how we use alleyways.

In cities like Barcelona, London and Beijing lanes and alleys are often the liveliest of public spaces, filled with small cafés, shops and markets.

“Alleyways may be Vancouver's most underdeveloped assets. As our streets get busier, alleyways could become one of the city's most valuable and interesting features,” says geography student John Paul Catungal.

The student project offers four examples to consider: a Zen alley to celebrate the history of Japan Town, a marketplace or green oasis behind Woodward's and Tire Alley on East Georgia transformed for neighbourhood recreation. “But what we really want is for Vancouverites to think about alternative uses for the city's network of back lanes,” says Catungal.

The SFU student project, which includes an idea book, website and posters is among 21 submissions selected through the Vancouver city planning commission's 21 Places for the 21st Century competition. An exhibition of the winning entries is at the Interurban Gallery, 9 East Hastings St. from April 15-30.

The students are part of a unique program developed and led by SFU biological scientist Mark Winston. Based at the university's Vancouver campus, students dedicate a semester to working with each other and members of the community to learn more about the design and sustainability of the city.

In addition to the undergraduate semester in dialogue proposal, two other SFU-linked ideas made it to the winners' exhibition.

Geography student Clemens Schneider offered an idea for the Main Street Skytrain station and Andrew Hale, withcommunity economic  development, suggested more art for the city's transportation system.

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