O’Keefe Lane revitalization project in the works

O’Keefe Lane might get a makeover come 2016. The lane, which runs east of Yonge from Shuter Street to Gerard Street, lies adjacent to Ryerson.

Mark Garner, Downtown Yonge BIA’s executive director, wants to turn the unused space into a green, pedestrian-friendly area. This could mean that Ryerson students will have a space to walk, study and relax.

The road is currently a central spot for restaurants to throw out waste. Garner says that the revamping is scheduled to begin in 2016.

“[O’Keefe Lane] is not a welcoming place,” says Chris De Sousa, Ryerson’s urban planning director.

Back in 2012, the lane and St. Enochs Square were nominated alongside seven other city locations to be renewed as a community design development. The project, called Make a Place for People, was in partnership with ING Direct and 8-80 Cities, a Canadian non-profit dedicated to transforming city spaces. The project was sidelined when ING Direct was purchased by Scotiabank.

Although 8-80 Cities is no longer involved in the revival of the laneway, Emily Monroe, program director, says that O’Keefe Lane remains a strong candidate for a revitalization effort.

O'Keefe Lane runs adjacent to Ryerson and currently houses trash bins and graffiti. (Ashani Jodha/Ryersonian Staff)

O’Keefe Lane runs adjacent to Ryerson and currently houses trash bins and graffiti. (Ashani Jodha/Ryersonian Staff)

“O’Keefe is one of the best options because of its location off Dundas Square,” she says. “It’s just waiting for someone to do something with it. … In Toronto, laneways are this untapped potential resource that can act as another layer in pedestrian infrastructure.”

“It’s an eyesore,” says Ruth Treasure, a fourth-year urban planning student. “When people first come (to) visit Ryerson, it’s one of the first entrances off of Yonge Street.”

Ryerson President Sheldon Levy says the changes to O’Keefe Lane will not interfere with the school’s expansion plans.

“Anything that improves O’Keefe Lane is a good thing. It desperately needs to change,” he says. “I don’t think anyone would feel comfortable walking down O’Keefe Lane at night.”

Garner says that increasing the lane’s foot traffic and providing some lighting should make pedestrians feel safer. He cites laneways in cities like Melbourne, Australia as examples of revitalization done right. The city’s narrow lanes are bustling hotspots, transformed by street art, cafés and bars.

De Sousa says the impending changes should be made with students in mind. They should be able to provide their input, as they’ll be the primary users of a portion of the lane.

“You have thousands of students here and you see the kind of thing that closing Gould Street has done,” he says. “You might get tourists coming in at certain times of days but your … daily users are going to be the students.”

Treasure, for one, believes in Gardiner’s vision of a green, pedestrian friendly laneway equipped with places for social interaction.

“He’s thinking more forward,” she says. “I know he’ll make a good plan that will balance what Ryerson wants, what the community needs and what the businesses want.”

O’Keefe Laneway isn’t the first street around Ryerson that might get repurposed. Ryerson architecture students held a contest last year and chose a design that will update Victoria Lane, an alley between Bond and Victoria Streets.

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