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Although inspired by the vibrant pedestrian-only alleyways of Tokyo and Melbourne, Alley Oop does not close its space to cars. During the day, the laneway maintains its service functions (waste removal, parking, and delivery), but in off-hours, people gravitate here for a quick game of basketball or to take a break after dancing at a nearby club.
Several weeks after that 2015 HCMA Day, HCMA recreated this same design exercise as part of Simon Fraser University’s annual community summit and attracted the attention of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA). The organization now works closely with HCMA to develop select city laneways into public-friendly thoroughfares. Alley Oop, the playfully named first collaborative result, is a colorful installation at the edge of Vancouver’s Financial District. Set between Granville and Seymour and West Hastings and Pender, it includes a basketball court, hopscotch, and movable seating that encourages pedestrians to interact with the space rather than rush through it. “What makes Alley Oop unique,” explains HCMA principal architect Paul Fast, “is that it taps into a space that people previously haven’t considered for public use.” With ambitions larger than simple beautification, HCMA is radically reenvisioning both the ways a dense city can use public space and approaches to the ever-present issue of land availability. “Being surrounded by water and mountains has limited the amount of land available for development in Vancouver,” Fast notes, “and that’s driven up the cost, making it difficult to free up areas for public space.” Given Vancouver’s rapidly growing population, and its more than 240 laneways, HCMA is leading the charge to enrich civic life through previously unexplored development opportunities. More activations are currently in the works, including Ackery’s Alley, slated to open late summer/early fall east of Granville Street next to the Orpheum theater. To reflect the vintage glamour of this local landmark (each laneway will echo the unique character of its neighborhood), the project will include a “red carpet” (painted down the length of the lane) and an interactive light and sound installation by Alex Beim. When asked why HCMA, a firm known for its large institutional projects, decided to take on small-scale design with a socially driven bent, Fast answers with succinct conviction, “It’s the right thing to do for our city.” ❈
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