March 25 2014

The Melbourians’ Natural Habitat: The Alleyway

Like any western city experiencing growth in population as Melbourne has, space is a problem. Over the years both public and private entities have endeavoured to use every bit of space possible, thus, Melbourne has seen the development of these alleyway spaces as a response to the situation. This has developed not only in a physical sense but also in a cultural sense. The alleyways have become defining cultural entities that describe the qualities of Melbourne’s spaces. 

A view looking at the variety that the Melbourne alleys have to offer, Melbourne, Australia

The variety that Melbourne’s alleyways have to offer.

From the development of the city grid using the Hoddle grid (named after its designer, Robert Hoddle in 1837), the alleyways were used to service horses and carriages as needed. This reputation didn’t get any better in the coming years with the Gold Rush era slums that were associated with the alleyways.

What Hoddle had not initially understood were the demands of trading. The planner either had to design in proper access-ways himself or they would have developed on their own in an ad hoc way. Apparently, practicality won over planning purity, and the lanes evolved as access-ways between the major streets. Shops, hotels, pubs and offices needed access for their goods, services and customers – and got them. Furthermore, as well as providing access, the lanes enabled these rather densely packed buildings to feel lighter and airier.

Today, the alleyways are a place of indulgence, of art and of culture. Since the 1990s, the city has made efforts to establish uses for these spaces, which would be otherwise disregarded, due to their historical uses and the stigma associated with these uses. From niche art galleries to unique cafes, the alleyways quickly became city defining, evoking superb design qualities with highly quality art.

The narrowness of the alleyways was also a defining factor of their development, forcing strict pedestrian access and providing a density that was welcoming to the human scale. Without detracting from the activities on the main streets, the alleyways provide that extra human touch that allows greater use of the Central Business District as a pedestrian friendly place; not just a transit area.

Melbourne, Australia A beautiful view of the atmosphere that has been created in otherwise unused space

A beautiful view of the atmosphere created in otherwise unused space.

Melbourne has achieved an evolution of use where something that was previously designed for a purpose in mind has been completely altered to suit the needs of the modern day. This is another clear and positive example of the evolving city where we are able to adjust the uses of spaces as time passes. What we can learn from this is the how the economic value of old spaces can be beneficial for future generations. This also displays the braveness of the relevant parties in tackling issues such as heritage and future uses.

Do other cities utilise this kind of forward thinking in city planning and design?

Credits: Images by Kunal Matikiti. Data linked to sources.

Kunal Matikiti

Originally from Zimbabwe, Kunal ventured to Australia to study architecture. After completing his Masters in 2012 at Deakin University, Kunal started working in Melbourne as a graduate architect at a small residential firm and has since moved to a bigger, and more commercially focused firm. With a keen interest in African Architecture, Kunal manages a small blog,, where topics range from art and culture to architecture and fashion in Africa. Kunal is looking forward to earning valuable experience in Australia’s booming architectural sector and develop the skills and thought processes required to resolve some of the issues facing the unestablished creative sector in parts of Africa. Understanding of culture is an important element of Kunal's work and this forms a major element in his endeavours. Writing for The Grid is an exciting challenge and Kunal hopes to give a different and interesting perspective to an already established city.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 25th, 2014 at 9:38 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environmental Design, Social/Demographics, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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