Public life research
Melbourne is one of the only cities in the world with a formal and longitudinal research program for collecting data on public life and pedestrian activity. In 1994, the City engaged Danish architect and urban designer, Jan Gehl, to conduct a groundbreaking study of the quality of public space and human activity in the central city. The study 'Places for People' repeated in 2004 and 2014 (the latter is due to be released), provides a database documenting pedestrian counts and behavior in relationship to features of the urban environment, including the location and type of public spaces, street and laneway connections, building form, business types, residential buildings, and street furniture. The research assists the City to understand the condition of the public realm, the impact of changes to the built environment on pedestrian activity, and prioritize work programs. Gehl’s reports have documented the impact of laneway revitalization on the way people use the city as well as identifying opportunities for their ongoing improvement.
The Melbourne Planning Scheme provides guidance for development on laneways to support their diverse servicing, social, cultural, and economic functions. It classifies the quality of laneways, identifying many that would benefit from upgrades to enhance the pedestrian experience. New development on laneways is encouraged to support the human scale nature and pedestrian connections through articulated frontages, overlooking windows and balconies, and small tenancies integrated at ground level. Several recent developments in the city are separated by new passages, referencing Melbourne’s laneways. Developers recognize the laneways are a sought after location, offering appeal to businesses, and in many cases have integrated new public laneways and arcades through developments. Examples include major retail stores QV, Melbourne Central and GPO; and public buildings at Southern Cross Tower, Southern Cross Station, Federation Square and the base of the City of Melbourne’s green headquarters, CH2.