They started as dingy, dirty black holes you’d prefer to avoid once the sun set. But no longer. Civic’s Odgers and Verity lanes have been treated to a makeover from the ground up in what’s hoped to be a boost to Canberra’s night life.
The two laneways, tucked away behind the historic Sydney and Melbourne buildings, have received new stormwater infrastructure, lighting (including some fittings that project patterns onto the ground), plant boxes and fresh asphalt.
And yes, this means you won’t have to hop over that massive puddle by the entrance to Verity Lane Market anymore.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said it was the best the laneways had looked in his lifetime “and I’m getting pretty old”.
“A lot of it was below the ground to address some of the major stormwater and flooding challenges the laneways have been experiencing over decades, and to invest in improving the spaces and making them much more usable for people,” he said.
Constructed between 1926 and 1946, the two near-symmetrical buildings were designed as the city’s premier “retail trader’s block”. All these years later, they’re occupied by more than a 100 different owners.
Because each of these are responsible for their own slice of the building – including the façade and walkway – and there is no one strata manager, the ACT Government had to pass special legislation in March 2021 to allow the City Renewal Authority (CRA) to step in and undertake the restoration works.
Mr Barr acknowledged the upgrade was a “complex piece of work”, with the CRA and local construction company Complex Co not only dealing with this, but also the pressures of having to work around old infrastructure, established trees and the fact a range of delivery and waste collection vehicles use the laneways.
“What the CRA has been able to coordinate is access for essential delivery services and the ability to utilise these spaces for events and activities.”
He said the upgrade allowed businesses to have viable outdoor areas “that don’t flood all the time and are attractive spaces for people to be in”.
Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel said the most substantial upgrades started from the “bottom up”, with drainage.
“[The Sydney and Melbourne buildings] have received upgrades to make sure they can handle more capacity from increased waterflows and better handle instances of localised flooding,” he said.
“This infrastructure hasn’t been upgraded since the 1940s. So it was really in need of an upgrade and the 70 per cent increase in capacity will make a real difference to improving both of these important heritage buildings.”
Local business Sideway, near San Churros, has already hosted a successful musical event titled ‘Loading zone: Verity Lane Takeover’ in May this year. Owner Tim Brown said he was looking forward to holding more like it in the future, once the outdoor dining permit came through.
“It’s a fantastic space that accommodates just what we’re after,” he said.
“The upgrade has brought a new energy to the laneway and made it more accessible for people to be outside and enjoy.”
For traffic that used to be able to duck into the laneways, there are also some changes. Verity Lane is closed to vehicles from 4 pm to 10 pm, Monday to Sunday. Odgers Lane remains open to traffic but closed for special events.