The Laneways

Good morning, folks. Coming out of this morning’s iGov meeting, I had an idea that I wanted to run past people, something that might help out some of our struggling businesses. (This is mainly aimed at locals, though others with relevant experience are welcome to weigh in!)

In Melbourne, there’s an area called the Laneways. (Also sometimes referred to as the arcades.) This is a vibrant shopping district in the alleys behind buildings. It is utterly charming, full of cute little restaurants and tiny shops, plus lots of great graffiti-style street art. I think sometimes businesses split the back of their space to rent to a separate business that operates out of the alleyway, and sometimes it’s all the same business, street side and alley side.

We’ve had a tough time here with street construction + COVID seriously affecting local businesses. I heard that while some businesses are about to have to close down their sidewalk patios for construction, they may be allowed to set up alleyway options.

I think that’s great, but I’m a little worried that unless there’s a concerted effort to support that, people just won’t even think of venturing into the alley to find their open-air dining (and I know it’s rainy today, but with a canopy, I think you could eat outside for another month at least, maybe more with a patio heater or two?)

I’m wondering whether we could use a local community group to work on a Laneways project here, something that might extend beyond the pandemic time, and add a rich additional bit of cultural bustle to the shopping districts. It would beautify the relevant alleys too. They might have to shut down for winter, but once the pandemic is no longer an issue, hanging walls might also help extend the season.

I’m trying to think about what downsides might be. Would neighbors object? It’d be a little extra noise in the alley, but that might be counteracted by additional safety with more people around. It’d likely feel a bit more urban, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing?

This is just a brainstorming post (cross-posted to Shop Local Oak Park and Oak Park Development Watch, as well as my own wall). I’d love to hear people’s thoughts.

If it seems worth pursuing, I’m envisioning a coalition of business owners and interested consumers coming together to discuss and shape the project, defining parameters of a first test alley or two, to present a plan to the Village Board for their approval, to perhaps raise funds to help businesses who need financial assistance with supplies, but mostly to help get the word out and patronize those businesses once it’s up and running.

(I cannot take on another thing to run, but I’d be happy to be part of the committee, at least for the initial brainstorming, which is my strong suit. :-))

Photos of Melbourne’s Laneways for inspiration.

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