Laneways: Time + place + circumstance = opportunity

Gehl remains one of our industry’s most influential design theorists, with his past views on public spaces (and the life that happens within them) still as relevant today as they were decades ago. So much so, that our research team recently applied Gehl’s Twelve Quality Criteria approach to the modern-day challenge of activating laneways. In fact, to one in particular, near 92 William Street in Perth.

Laneways are a microcosm of conflicting values and perceptions. To some, it’s a dirty place full of rubbish and a constant reminder of society’s wastefulness. For others, it’s an opportunity for self-expression or potentially a protest through visual art. For some members of our community, they are also places for criminal activity, away from the ‘eyes of the street’ (Jane Jacobs, 1961). Whatever the uses, laneways are often under-valued spaces in between life – and potentially creative blindspots that could be reinvigorated with a new perception.

Our Designing Inclusive Laneways: The Territorialisation of Public Spaces in Cities study team looked at how cities are not so much ‘designed’ as they are ‘formed’, with individual needs and behaviours contributing to the morphology of the city fabric.

Hames Sharley Head of Research and Development Dr Emil Jonescu said that the urban activation case study was conducted over a four-week period to consider the laneway against three key Gehl principles – ‘protection’, ‘comfort’ and ‘enjoyment’.

“Like all laneways, the study area has a very specific context including its own unique characteristics, opportunities and drivers.

“The L-shaped laneway comprises two entrances to streets with different conditions, one facing a wide but quiet pedestrian mall, the other a pedestrian footpath and busy, bustling city street. The location is about 100 metres from the Perth Underground train and bus stations, plus around the same distance to the Central Business District on St Georges Terrace.

A panorama of the Laneway at approximately 92 William Street Perth
The L-shaped laneway, facing both William Street (left) and Murray Street Mall (right)

“We considered the laneway against a range of factors including urbanism, affordance, urban design, human behaviour, territorialization, safety, and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED),” he said.

“It’s been a really interesting deep dive into a local hidden space, that I’m sure many Perth locals walk past every single day as they go about daily life.”

Dr Jonescu said the case study provided some interesting findings that could support the laneway’s future activation.

“The findings suggest that current primary activation occurs through various forms of gathering during weekdays and weekends, which raised safety concerns due to large gatherings, intoxication, and violence. There seems to be a poor perceived level of diversity, seating, activities, comfort, natural surveillance, and thus safety.

“As a result, the case study identified the opportunity to provide a contextual design solution that’s unique to that location, featuring established design principles and elements to dissuade criminal activity, frequency and severity. By doing this, the laneway’s value could be renewed and a refreshed sense of ‘place’ and pro-social behaviours could be achieved,” he said.

“The future application of place-sensing methods could be a real game-changer for the laneway and its local community, using social, economic, and environmentally sustainable principles.”

The case study was completed in 2023 as part of the Edith Cowan University student engagement initiative.

Read more about the case study and its findings below:

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