Concept to completion: Is Perth playing copycat to Melbourne’s laneway culture?

Perth often behaves like that younger sibling that tries to copy what their older brothers or sisters do. This time it seems that the City of Perth has cottoned onto Melbourne’s laneway cultural coattails.

What we are seeing is a trend of where the City has been acquiring and updating an assortment of laneways within Perth.  The plan is to keep the gritty feel of the laneway, but develop it as a space for small bars, restaurants and specialty shops.[1]

Most of the centre of Perth had, until more recent years, been considered a ghost town after work and on the weekends. People would go home and there would be nothing to keep people in the city after dark. This only exacerbated the problem for those who chose to be there late. The lack of people created an atmosphere that permeated a sense of insecurity across its large empty spaces and quickly drove those who remained home too.

The City of Perth looked to solutions that they hoped would ‘engage’ the community, revitalize and introduce character into the area.[2] One of their avenues to address the cities shortcomings was to try emulating the success of Melbourne’s laneways; believing that they could bring similar qualities to its spaces that were characteristic of the iconic laneway culture of Melbourne.

However, this was no proven solution. The laneway culture of Melbourne did not happen solely because the local Council decided it would be good to develop the area in that way; it developed over time because of complex influences and trends. It developed over time in a way that can be considered as a more organic process.


“Quite a few (cities) are seeking to retrofit laneways or improve existing ones with the hope of emulating Melbourne’s success. But is it that easy? Can cities everywhere simply capture Melbourne’s buzz through design?

I think the planners and designers made a valuable and significant contribution to the culture of Melbourne’s city centre as we know it today, but they didn’t “create” it…

That’s an important understanding because it explains why, even though other cities have been trying for decades, it’s very hard to replicate elsewhere the success of Silicon Valley or the magic of Paris.”            Alan Davies [3]

Since the time that the City of Perth has taken up the laneway concept the ‘after work’ scene of Perth has changed quite dramatically for the better; but how much of an impact did the laneways idea have in changing this cultural perception?

Perth hasn’t been a city where laneways would naturally develop into cultural hotspots. Due to the spread-out nature of the city, there haven’t been many locations for them to develop apart from the centre of the city. I recently explored the centre of Perth to see a couple of the redeveloped lanes and observe how successful they have been.

Figure 1 Andrew Caneppele, “View down Grand Lane,” 2018, JPEG.

Figure 2 Andrew Caneppele, “View from the opposite end of Grand Lane,” 2018, JPEG.

Figure 3 Andrew Caneppele, “View down McLean Lane,” 2018, JPEG.

Figure 4 Andrew Caneppele, “View down Wolf Lane,” 2018, JPEG.

Figure 5 Andrew Caneppele, “View down Globe Lane,” 2018, JPEG.

By day these lanes mostly serve as thoroughfares for pedestrians. The key improvement, for those that were previously service roads, is the accessibility and atmosphere they provide. Previously their dark and uninviting presence was tolerated for the basic amenity they served. Now, while not perfect, they were decidedly improved.

Where previously nothing fronted onto these lanes a few have the occasional café (Grand Lane), shop (Wolf Lane), restaurant (McLean Lane) or club (McLean Lane) located on them now. Not many, and certainly not enough to rival Melbourne’s, but it is a start.

There had been a stigma associated with these spaces. A social dissidence that made people uncomfortable around them. There was a risk about them, the people that were perceived to have occupied them were viewed as social outcasts that were best avoided. Combined with the lack of passive social surveillance people would just not go down these laneways.[4]

With the redevelopment of the laneways to be like those in Melbourne, the result is that there has been a shift in how people perceive these spaces. Now at night many of the lanes have been illuminated with the LED lighting in a non-uniform manner to provide ambience and intrigue that invites passers into the spaces. This contrasts with what used to occur even a few years ago.

While there has been changing social perceptions in Perth, does this mean that the Melbourne laneway idea is successful for Perth? I believe that laneways have their place in Perth, but I do not believe they will have the cultural impact they have in Melbourne. There are too many other factors that helped to create what Melbourne has to offer that simply isn’t available here in Perth.

With the recent changes in the heart of the city, I think that it is only natural that the people that are drawn into the city ‘after work’ are going to explore these spaces. My question is then one of future consideration; what role will these laneways play into the future and how will it differ to that of Melbourne? Will they become more readily adopted into Perth’s culture or could they become a part of a specific sub-culture that chooses to use them?





[1] Emily Cordz, “Off the beaten track to explore Perth’s laneways,” Perth Walkabout: Things to do Blog, December 1, 2010,

[2] “McLean Lane Enhancement,” City of Perth, accessed May 3, 2018,

[3] Alan Davies, “How did Melbourne’s ‘laneway culture’ come about?,” Crikey Blog, July 4, 2013,

[4] Sosseh Taimoorian, “Street Politics: Art and Activism in Forgotten Alleyways,” Smart Cities Dive Blog,


Andrew Caneppele

UWA architecture student studying for a Master of Architecture in Perth, Western Australia.