Changing Lanes

/ David Shaw / City & Land

Amongst the armoury of any City Planner is a secondary conduit of movement, the lane or more commonly understood, backlanes or service lane.

The formal frontage of any city and coathanger of the visible city is its network of streets that essentially subdivide the urban form into blocks. Development fronts these streets in the form of entrances, shop windows, signage etc. The front has a lot to do, so much so that it made sense to create a further subdivision of the block to create a narrower yet distinctively different route to the main streets, that could accommodate service and supporting roles of buildings, supplies, waste, privacy - uses that we would prefer to keep out of sight.

The modern city challenged this building form, it argued that the lanes were an inadequate urban model, dirty and unsafe and as a result it to a large extent aggregated the block into one rather than multiple ownerships, replacing the lane with a ramp into a service court or basement yard. Where the city wasn't rebuilt in this image a double strategy evolved - treat some key streets as special by pedestrianising them, the obvious locations for the multiple stores and flood the rest with motor vehicles. To a certain extent the experience of our cities as a pedestrian becomes mono-cultural either car-less in one, car-full in the rest.

Curiously out of this catharsis a radical reassertion, a new middle ground emerged - maybe these lanes could become the home for the lost, social and interesting settings for users not desiring or needing the standard format of the pedestrianised focal streets. So a subculture of energy emerges as a contrast to the managed city.

It is this dynamic between the front and back city, such as you find between the official festival and the fringe that creates that, the lane sub culture of cities is growing in recognition.

The Lane