Chicago's Green Alleys and Dissolving the Laneway 'Climate Myth'

Chicago's Green Alleys and Dissolving the Laneway 'Climate Myth'

The untapped potential of laneways has provided motivation to some cities around the world to re-imagine and re-purpose them into safe & beautiful spaces. Perth, Melbourne, Seattle and other cities in Europe are among those leading laneway transformations. Many ‘laneway pessimists’, have expressed doubt about the sustainability of re-designing laneways in Toronto because of our unpleasant winters. They say arrangements for snow removal, plowing and salting are reasons enough to deter investment into Toronto laneways.

  photo J. Crocker

photo J. Crocker

Cue Chicago, a city with a climate nearly identical to Toronto’s, which didn’t let these factors become a barrier to laneway revitalization. Nearly 10 years ago, the Windy City launched a pilot project called the Green Alley Program, intended to conserve resources and improve the natural environment. City planners recognized that flooding was an issue in laneways because many of them were built without a connection to the city’s combined sewer and stormwater system. The program looks at sustainable solutions to this problem, and others identified within the city.

The Green Alley Program helps accomplish the following:

Improved Stormwater Management
•    Green alleys allow rainwater to pass through permeable pavement back into the earth. This reduces localized flooding and recharges groundwater. 
•    Result: saves taxpayer money that would otherwise be spent treating stormwater

                                                    Laneway with impermeable pavement.

                                                Laneway revitalized with permeable pavement.

                                               Laneway revitalized with permeable pavement.

Heat Reduction
•    Green alleys have light surfaces that reflect the sun's heat
•    Result: reduces the common condition where dense urban areas become several degrees warmer as a result of building density & amount of heat absorbed by paved areas

Material Recycling 
•    Green alleys are constructed with recycled materials.
•    Result: reduces the amount of construction and industrial waste taken to landfills and the burden on our natural resources

Energy Conservation and Glare Reduction
•    Green alleys have light fixtures that are energy efficient
•    Result: reduces glare and light pollution

 Chicago’s Green Alley Program has received world-wide recognition on its efforts and has transformed hundreds of laneways since 2006.

Chicago’s Green Alley Program has received world-wide recognition on its efforts and has transformed hundreds of laneways since 2006.

Laneway Greening for Property Owners 

Chicago also calls upon property owners to help make a difference by implementing green alley best management practices on their properties. Here are 3 techniques from Chicago that Torontonians could adopt to create a greener, more sustainable Toronto.

1.    Install a rain barrel/cistern in your laneway 
o    Recycles rainwater and can provide water for plant irrigation 
o    Reduces stormwater runoff 

2.    Plant a Tree near your laneway 
o    Provides shade to the laneway, reducing amount of thermal energy reaching the pavement
o    Reduces the urban heat island effect
o    Improves air quality

3.    Incorporate native perennial plants into landscaping in and around your laneway: 
o    Slows down stormwater runoff and allows it to infiltrate back into the soil
o    Reduces the rate and quantity of stormwater entering the sewage system
o    Can help reduce localized flooding

To learn more about how Chicago’s Green Alley program, you can visit: http://www.cityofchicago.org/dam/city/depts/cdot/Green_Alley_Handbook_2010.pdf. 

Written by Brittany Reynolds