martes, 14 de febrero de 2012

Melbourne laneways. Every space matters

Melbourne is recognized as one of the most livable cities for its quality of life, specially for its vibrant cultural life and the high quality of its public spaces and streets. I was visiting this city a few weeks ago and one of the things I wanted to explore were the streets of the city centre. An article discovered a before the trip, Off the Grid, Exploring the Sydney Laneway , put me on the trail of how the model street life promotion in Melbourne was the inspiration for what is now making Sydney. And laneways appeared to be a core part of this strategy.
The center of Melbourne (the Central Business District) has a quadrangular morphology where almost every block of buildings includes laneways that connect the main streets. These alleys are relatively narrow, but most are open from one side to the other, between buildings with moderate heights in most cases.

These alleys are doomed, almost in every city, to be residual spaces, with low social and economic value. In the case of Melbourne, the structure of the urban grid hides these spaces that serve as articulators of cultural diversity and alternative uses beyond the bustle of the main streets. Small shops, art studios, cafes, spaces for social innovation, graffiti, street art interventions ... is what you can find, making this one of the distinctive marks of the city when you walk and find some much life where normally you find abandoned spaces.

This strategy to active laneways as urban assets began in the eighties of last century, with the Postcode 3000 urban revitalization project designed by Rob Adams, Director of Urban Design in the city. This plan, among other things, settled the need to give value and reuse redundant buildings and spaces of the urban center. Since then, laneways have slowly brought life and are now home for small local businesses and also an increasing activity of cultural expressions, social life and community facilities. In fact, the council itself supports these activities through the Laneway Commissions annual program, which seeks to revitalize these areas promoting temporal uses in the laneways.

What can we learn? The logic behind: activate everything to the maximum capacity in the city. In this case, we have underused spaces that can turn into places and these places into social and economic activity. In economic constraints, cities cannot afford to have resources and capacities of any kind (physical space, public facilities, social capital,...) with no use. Because small scale interventions can have a significant impact in urban life and boost the economy and revitalize public spaces Maybe is not the time for large scale urban projects, but it is always time to make big changes happen. Lighter, quicker, cheaper for adaptive cities.

This video shows some of the ideas and is worth watching it:

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