Richard Dalman reviews the potential for a bit of Melbourne coming to our city.
Last week I was in Melbourne and made the obvious connections between that great city and Christchurch: a strong focus on arts and sports, a cool winter climate, and a central grid street layout with a river running through. What Melbourne is also famous for, and Christchurch is developing, is a strong laneway
system. Because these are only about six to eight metres across they provide a more intimate street experience, and having no cars they are filled with street furniture for dining and relaxing.
The laneways provide both a ‘shortcut’ for walking, as well as a place to sit, eat, drink, relax and enjoy. A successful laneway is ‘activated’ on both sides, with vibrant restaurants; bars and shopfronts opening out onto it, and pedestrians can view the offerings on each side of the laneway as they walk down. Laneways can also bring a ‘secret side’ to a city, providing a narrow access to hard-to-find bars, almost so secret, with little or no signage, that you need to be ‘in the know’ to find it.
The Melbourne laneways are successful because the locals have developed a ‘culture’ of living with them. Even in the cold winter months they brave the elements to sit in the open under gas-fired heaters to enjoy the experience. If the Christchurch laneways are to be successful, we need to develop that culture too, and be willing to compromise a bit of comfort.
Laneways make sense in Christchurch providing access into the heart of our relatively large city blocks, allowing more retail frontage and shortcuts.
The CERA Blueprint and the Christchurch City Council both encourage laneways within the Christchurch CBD, and have outlined existing, new and potential laneways on the attached map. Many of these lead into small squares to enhance the experience of travelling through and enjoying the open spaces within.
Of course Christchurch has had laneways in the past – successful ones like Poplar Lane and Chancery Lane (the uncovered part), and less successful such as Press Lane and Tattersalls Lane. Christchurch currently has the new Stranges Lane off High Street. This works well because it provides a shortcut, is reasonably well activated with several restaurants and bars, has a feeling of intimacy because it is narrow, and features a small square at one end. It provides a good model for future laneways in the city. Recently completed is a laneway at 123 Victoria Street. This doesn’t follow the perfect model, but the wedge-shaped space that increases in width the further you move through is well populated with permanent timber furniture and trees giving it a human scale and a relaxed ambience. It is a sunny space, and because it is narrower at the street end, there is less traffic noise and wind.
I think that the Christchurch laneway initiative is to be applauded and encouraged, and my hope is that Cantabrians will embrace the laneways and make them part of our own culture and story.