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Faculty of Community Services

Breathing new life into Toronto's laneways

arianna cancelli

arianna cancelli


Ariana Cancelli is strengthening and beautifying communities in Toronto by applying her urban planning expertise to the most unexpected of places: laneways.

Most of the city’s approximately 2,400 laneways are nothing more than utilitarian passageways for accessing garages, parking cars or making deliveries. Most are isolated, neglected places, making them easy targets for garbage, graffiti and crime. Cancelli is trying to unleash the social, economic and environmental potential of these neglected back alleys and corridors by transforming them into people-friendly green spaces featuring public art, patios, pop-up shops, microbusinesses and community events.

“I want to make these forgotten urban spaces more multifunctional so they can better serve the city and its people,” Cancelli says.

Understanding the importance of including community members in the urban planning process was a key part of her Ryerson education, Cancelli says, and it’s a guiding principle behind The Laneway Project (, a first-of-its-kind nonprofit she established in 2014 with architectural and urban designer Michelle Senayah. The duo collaborate on laneway rejuvenation projects with local business improvement associations, residents’ groups, municipalities and nonprofits, working with them to help them realize their visions for their alley-ways. Among their current projects is O’Keefe Lane, on campus, where they are working with the university and other local partners to turn the lane into a more welcoming pedestrian and cyclist passageway, a canvas for local culture, and an appealing stopping place for workers, students and other community members.

Some laneway improvement projects are funded by government or foundation grants, and others are paid for by the communities themselves, but the goal is always the same: to create safe, vibrant and attractive spaces that connect citizens and enrich neighbourhoods.

“People are forming new relationships with each other and understanding how to create positive change in their communities,” says Cancelli.