Urban Street Design

What do these two streets have in common?

A street in West End (2km from central Brisbane) and a street in Heathwood (20 km from central Brisbane),

Not much at a first glance. One is high density, within walking distance of central Brisbane. The other is a peripheral suburban development.

What they do have in common is that all these buildings were constructed in the last decade, and these streetscapes both completely lack any public realm.

What is public realm?

It’s the other place we go when we’re not at home or at work. It’s public spaces that encourage organic social interaction.

And it’s something that conventional urban planning has struggled to deliver, at high and low residential densities.

Why do we need change?

Our cities and our streets should be vibrant places where people meet, travel and interact. They should be pleasant spaces where people of all ages and abilities feel safe, that are pleasant to travel in.

Streets also make up 80% of the public space in our cities (NACTO 2013).

Current urban design and planning simply aren’t meeting the complex and diverse needs of our cities.

Our growing cities aren’t just places to live and work. Our streets aren’t just thoroughfares for us to travel from home to our place of employment.

Streets must be adaptable and resilient to changing needs and conditions – they can be centres of productivity, of social interaction while also accommodating cars, bikes and pedestrians – if designed properly.

A new way forward?

Last year the Queensland Government announced a new street design code for residential development. While it won’t effect existing layouts, it may be a new way forward for new developments.

Tree lined streets, actual footpaths ensuring pedestrian connectivity, greater access to more parkland and more public open space.

Work published in Land Use Policy and Urban Geography

Work by Rachel Gallagher, Dr Thomas Sigler and Associate Professor Yan Liu has been published in two international journals.

Ad hoc redevelopment in inner Brisbane

In a recent paper published in Urban Geography we analyse the influence of the underlying urban frame – being the structure of streets and property parcels –on the urban form. Using ArcGIS, we plot property boundary change over time, over seven suburbs in inner Brisbane and analyse what changes to urban form occur following the boundary change.

We found that redevelopment was characterised by ad hoc redevelopment, favouring parcels that were easily transformed. Most redevelopment occurred on properties with a detached house, which are attractive to small-scale developers. The observed developments were generally contrary to the aspirations outlined in relevant planning schemes, which encourage targeted redevelopment that is of a mixed use, concentrated around existing transport or activity centres and of a higher density. In fact, the difficulty of property boundary change may in fact incentivise further urban sprawl.

Rezoning does not guarantee positive development outcomes

We also undertook research to analyse how urban consolidation can be achieved despite the fixity of existing parcel sizes. In a paper recently published in Land Use Policywe look at where parcel reconfigurations in the same Brisbane inner suburbs can be used to achieve densification. Redevelopments which resulted in the construction of apartment buildings were analysed, and our findings show that most apartment buildings were constructed on amalgamated lots on brownfield land.

We found that rezoning to high densities did not guarantee redevelopment outcomes – and that the difficulty of assembling the parcel sizes required for higher density development may inhibit the ability to deliver high amenity developments which provide a benefit to existing and future residents.

Both papers contribute to the growing need to review our planning framework so that both government and developers alike can overcome the constraints of property boundaries, and the purported benefits of urban consolidation can become a reality.


My name is Rachel Gallagher – I’m a geographer, urban researcher and I am a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland.

My background is in geography and planning. I used to be a solicitor specialising in planning and environment law, and have more recently worked in urban policy development and implementation at a state level.

I have qualifications in law, urban and environmental planning and science, and have most recently completed my Master of Philosophy. My research analysed property boundary change for residential infill in the inner suburbs of Brisbane, Australia.