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It happened between announcements about big, flashy projects like Celestial Beacon, Festival Plaza, and the Distillery District.

The City Council approved the establishment of minimum standards for alleys.

That may not seem iconic, like the spectacular canopy proposed for Festival Plaza.

But it is key to transforming the neighborhoods of Historic Downtown Windsor. And it has the potential to create some very interesting public places.

Many of our alleys are collapsing, weed-infested and littered with garbage. In the summer, the smell hits the streets.

We treat them like garbage cans, and this is what they look like.

But it’s about seeing these public spaces differently. These are hidden assets and untapped resources.


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An alley in downtown Windsor west of Ouellette Avenue near Maiden Lane is shown on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.
An alley in downtown Windsor west of Ouellette Avenue near Maiden Lane is shown on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

The unique and intimate alleys, a bit mysterious, are very urban. The suburbs don’t have them. They offer a unique way to experience the city, from alley dwellings to restaurant patios to pedestrian and cycling routes.

Windsor has 140 kilometers of alleys. That’s a lot of potential, if you look at it the right way.

And the city is starting to see it the right way.

For councilors Rino Bortolin and Chris Holt, who have advocated for alleys for two terms, it has been a lonely marathon. And it has left political scars. Bortolin was reprimanded for a comment about the crime in the alleys.

But it seems that they, and the city, are finally winning.

Maiden Lane, WIFF Alley, Butterfly Lane, Ford City alley murals – they’re all a start.


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The WIFF Alley in downtown Windsor is shown on Friday, November 12, 2021.
The WIFF Alley in downtown Windsor is shown on Friday, November 12, 2021. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

But now, city staff are forming an alleyway standards and development committee to recommend alternative rules and uses for the alleys.

Some cities use alleys as “an integral and crucial part of the urban renewal strategy,” states a staff report on the plan. “Beautifying the alley space can improve the image of the city, revitalize communities, and can improve the quality of life for residents who live and work in the community.”

Here is another pleasantly surprising excerpt from a report on a request to close an alley between George Avenue and Henkel Place, which runs from Henkel Place south to Wyandotte Street, last month. The report recommended rejecting the request.

The alley is not necessary, the report acknowledged. But, he concluded, “there is an additional lens to seeing this application … through: the social benefit of keeping this alley open …”


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One photo showed the grassy alley, the trees hanging over the fences. It looks like a park. City officials who visited the site saw people chatting there. Several residents whose properties abut the alley called the planning department and said they use the alley to visit neighbors and socialize. Eleven of them signed a petition against the closure.

“This alley contributes to a safe, supportive and diverse neighborhood,” the report concluded.

“It was great to read,” Bortolin said.

And, as Bortolin pointed out, the plan for the Distillery District in Walkerville, much touted by Mayor Drew Dilkens, includes a proposal for the Hiram Walker Alleyway, between Kildare and Chilver, from Assumption to Wyandotte. Renderings show attractive pavements, trees and planters, public art, strings of lights, and small “pocket parks”, patios, and courtyards.


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It would be a “great catalyst” for an alley system in Walkerville and other neighborhoods, said architect Nathan Flach of Brook McIlroy, the Toronto firm that created the design.

We generally think of alleys as a route to the garage or a place to put our trash cans, he said. But we are beginning to realize that they also provide a network of pedestrian paths. If we think of them as pedestrians and occasionally vehicles, that “allows us to rethink how they can look, function and feel,” he said. They can have all kinds of cool uses, “like a mini-street,” he said.

Melbourne, Australia, is a leader in turning alleys into “amazing” places, he said.

The most famous is Center Place, known for its lively bars, cafes, restaurants and boutiques.


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“The possibilities and potential are endless!” Flach was excited.

There are many reasons to fix our alleys. If a sidewalk is cracked, we fix it. If the grass in the parks grows too large, we cut it. Alleys, Bortolin said, are a city asset, as are sidewalks and parks.

If you don’t keep them, leave them dark and dirty, bad things happen, like crime. And most of the people in the central neighborhoods live in houses adjoining alleys, so this is a real problem for many people.

But the main reason, as Bortolin put it, is “they are an investment. They make better neighborhoods. “

And the neighborhoods where people want to live are good for the whole city.

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