Co-Founder and Former Executive Director, The Laneway Project
Sector: Non-Profit Sector
Michelle Senayah was a committed, passionate and thoughtful city-builder. In her impactful career, cut too short by her sudden passing in June 2021, Michelle helped create Open Streets TO and was the founder of The Laneway Project (TLP). Both ideas were the result of following her passion for improving and expanding public spaces in Toronto. Michelle found an area in our urban landscape, our extensive network of public laneways, that was vastly under-recognized and underutilized and set about ensuring that the City, residents and developers took notice of these laneways and included them in their planning. She did this by always including the maximum possible community involvement so that completed Laneway improvement projects fully reflected the desires of local neighbourhood residents and businesses. This involvement created local community buy-in, ownership & pride in what they, with TLP’s guidance, had collectively achieved. Michelle’s work was getting noticed by others outside of the GTA and she was often asked to provide insights and guidance to other communities and
municipalities. No one else took such an interest or developed such a high level of expertise in laneways, as Michelle. In addition to launching and running TLP since 2014, starting in 2013, Michelle also helped create and manage Open Streets TO, the city’s largest freerecreation program uniquely focused on promoting physical activity and exploring our city in fun and healthy ways. The precedent set by this popular program went on to inform the hugely important ActiveTO program that launched during the pandemic to provide car-free large open roadway spaces to help keep people active and healthy when all indoor facilities were closed.
Through dedication and perseverance Michelle demonstrated how a small start-up non-profit group could be the catalyst needed to make changes and improvements in community open spaces. Michelle’s work with TLP became widely recognised by City of Toronto staff and Councillors, and both would refer to the TLP team for advice on the improvement of laneway spaces. She assisted with the drafting of City policy on laneways in the Official Plan, and brought laneways into the realm of eligibility for funding made available through Section 37 development contributions. Michelle was a wonderful and positive mentor to TLP staff and project volunteers who were always shown appreciation for their contributions to TLP projects. Regardless of how challenging a site, situation or area was, Michelle always thoughtfully set out to create a plan that ensured all parties or stakeholders were involved and could provide feedback. Her passion and professionalism was effortlessly exuded in her work.
In addition to all the ways her joyful energy and dedication to community led city-building positively impacted and inspired so many friends and colleagues, Michelle showed true leadership in moving The Laneway Project from the early conceptual stage of ‘improving laneways’, through to the successful establishment of an influential organisation that is widely recognised as the leader in the space. In addition to launching and running TLP since 2014, starting in 2013, Michelle also helped create and manage Open Streets TO, the city’s largest free-recreation program uniquely focused on promoting physical activity and exploring our city in fun and healthy ways. The precedent set by this popular program went on to inform the hugely important ActiveTO program that launched during the pandemic to provide car-free large open roadway spaces to help keep people active and healthy when all indoor facilities were closed. Looking forward, there is a lot of excitement and policy change, at the City level, occurring around public space & laneways (i.e. laneway housing/garden suites, City grant programs acknowledging and approving laneway + back of lot improvements). Michelle played a big role in getting us to this stage, and her family, friends and colleagues will strive to honour her legacy, and carry on with her important work