By Ashley Lane | 11 May 2017

One of the pleasures of visiting the world’s greatest cities is the excitement of discovery; you never quite know what’s in store when you get lost down a side street or a maze of laneways.

You hope for a surprise around every corner; where venues for food, fashion and art can be hidden behind a non-descript door, and where bold street art is secreted just out of view.

When you think of Australian laneways you think of Melbourne’s Centre Place and its hole-in-the-wall cafes, of Hosier Lane and its oft-photographed cutting-edge street art, or of Meyers Place and its renowned out-of-the-way watering holes.

Historically, laneways have evolved organically through their use as thoroughfares — laneways are often shortcuts or on-foot connections between destinations. Driven by patterns of public use, their creation is significant and tells a story of their history as places that people gravitate towards instinctually. Activating these sites harnesses their natural pull and can create a sense of community and belonging not otherwise found in busy CBD streets.

The unique culture of laneways transforms their surrounding areas into destinations and creates an attractive residential hub. People want to live in and around vibrant spaces, and the community culture and lifestyle amenity of laneways is a major drawcard.

It is the intimacy and engagement offered by narrow and active spaces that distinguishes laneways from regular streets and gives one the sense of full immersion into a city.

With Brisbane maturing as a world-class city and making better use of its unused spaces, it is now keen to create a laneway culture of its own through placemaking as described in the Brisbane City Council Vibrant Laneways Plan.

Urbis Associate Director of Property Economics and Research Paul Riga says that lifestyle amenity in Brisbane is becoming the top consideration for tenants — proximity to employment, public transport and lifestyle amenity makes laneway residential developments attractive to the market.

“Laneways provide a feeling of seclusion from the hustle and bustle of the major city — they are places that inspire a sense of intimate community.

“Getting the retail and residential mix right is key. Selecting the right retail tenants makes the space a destination, encourages foot traffic, and can even serve to activate movement between nodes, reinvigorating nearby precincts,” he says.

Senior Planning Consultant Grant Williams believes that laneways are a feature of the “unique urban fabric” shared by the most desirable cities in the world.

He believes that the role of planning in the design of laneways can assist in providing favourable amenity and climatic conditions that are conducive to pedestrian activity and the overall appeal of laneways as effective public spaces.

“It is the intimacy and engagement offered by narrow and active spaces that distinguishes laneways from regular streets and gives one the sense of full immersion into a city.”

According to Urbis Director of Design Natalie Hoitz, a well-designed and activated laneway can offer an important layer of vibrancy, and draw people into the “forgotten parts of the urban fabric”.

“We crave intimate and authentic urban experiences in our cities,” she believes.

“Lighting, overhead elements, street and public art, and greenery are all effective urban design measures that when combined with the right policies and tenants can facilitate truly vibrant urban laneways.”

Centrally located on Melbourne St, Fish Lane is an existing spine that strategically connects South Brisbane and the West End cultural precinct. A mix of new residential and retail developments in recent years has served to revitalise the surrounding area.

Developers worked beyond expectations with council to provide high quality street-scaping, amenity, bespoke signage, wheelchair lifts, vertical green walls, landscaping and art to contribute to the public realm in the laneway. This attracted the right mix of desirable retailers and restaurants into the area. 

There is currently a development proposal to extend the park and entertainment precinct adjoining Fish Lane beneath the existing railway overpass before the Brisbane City Council. If approved, this development is sure to further enhance its emerging prominence as a retail and dining destination.

Urbis is a proud sponsor of the second annual Fish Lane Festival which gets under way Saturday 13 May 12pm – 10pm. Find out more here.

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