Rear lane development: an alternative urban consolidation strategy

A common topic of discussion in most Australian cities these days focuses on how to consolidate new development around  existing infrastructure as a more desirable alternative to expanding urban development out into the periphery creating “urban sprawl”. 

Ever-expanding development vs. village type urban consolidation

The obvious and most often discussed means of achieving  such consolidation involves major interventions such as intensive mixed use developments above/around rail stations (Transit Oriented Development), or intensified development along existing transit corridors. 

Mega-projects: costly disruptive urbanism

These mega-projects with their hyper-intensity can stir up NIMBY reaction – sometimes with good reason –  if they are not properly integrated within the existing development pattern.  In Brisbane, traditional inner city areas such as the CBD, Kangaroo Point and Spring Hill,  have been particularly affected by this simplistic and sometimes brutal approach  to densification. Examples in Kangaroo Point and the CBD  shown below,  clearly illustrate how scale and urban cohesiveness can be easily destroyed by hyper-intense development:  

Brutal disruptions in the urban fabric

As with most issues there is no one “silver bullet” solution to the urban intensification problem, but rather a suite of measures that can be utilized depending upon the particular circumstance. A small measure that could deliver significant outcomes in our suburbs without much impact is to identify areas which are serviced by rear lanes and to encourage development of modest accommodation within them, forming  a secondary dwelling on the same block of land as the main house. 

Rear lanes in Brisbane are not as prolific as they are in some of our older cities (Sydney, Melbourne). However, there are quite a few examples in our older suburbs which are well serviced by existing infrastructure and ripe for re-development. Three of the most representative are: 

Clowes Lane, Newmarket

Owen Lane, Auchenflower

Dengate Lane, St. Lucia

These lane way areas not only present residential densification opportunities, but may also provide  affordable housing alternatives in a market that is making inner suburbs prohibitive for a great majority. Additionally, they also provide the chance of developing  home-office and  neighbourhood-scale shop types  which can enhance the “walkable” quality of  many areas providing a true mixed-use village environment. 

Some 12 years ago, our studio planned and implemented a new beachside walkable neighbourhood on the Sunshine Coast which included rear lanes as part of the connected network of streets. Garaging and other service functions occur in these lanes and, in addition, the regulatory framework was set up to allow for the optional development of “accessory units” above garaging.  Most of these “accessory units” are self contained bed-sitters with access from the lane which is independent from the main residence.  As a result,  a valuable alternative dwelling type is thus provided to accommodate those who do not necessarily need a larger individual dwelling. 

Town of Seaside development, Sunshine Coast

As can be seen from the  images above, most land purchasers opted to to take advantage of this option – resulting in the rear lanes transcending their basic service function and becoming lively adjuncts to the neighbourhood. 

Laneway housing is a type with plenty of historical precedent : it is being re-introduced in many parts of the world in recognition that household demographics have shifted significantly and  variety in housing size and style is required to accommodate that shift.  Furthermore, this flexible  urban type can easily be adapted to either contemporary, traditional or heritage contexts. A few examples of  recently completed laneway housing include: 

Laneway housing is an affordable densification alternative being used around the world

Additionally, laneway housing has the potential of being an extremely sustainable  development strategy for the future, as shown by the “Harvest green project -02” from  Vancouver based firm Romses Architects. In this project the laneway type is used to produce self-sustainable homes and communities by transforming laneways into green energy and food conduits, or ‘green streets’, where energy and food is ‘harvested’ via proposed micro laneway live-work homes. 

Laneway development: an eco-friendly and sustainable alternative

 For some inspiring  (and often entertaining)  information on laneway developments, please follow these links: 

1. Link to: 

2. Link to: u-tube video) 

3. Link to:


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