Laneway housing: a way to create vibrant, resident-filled cities?


What is laneway housing?

Self-contained, low-rise homes that are built within the yards of detached homes, commonly where garages were situated.  They are accessed via the back lane, hence the name.

What are the benefits?

  • Increased affordable housing in expensive city regions;
  • More populated cities with all types of family make-up;
  • ‘Gentle density’;
  • Transformation of previously less attended areas;
  • More efficient utilisation of space;
  • Can introduce greater use of greenery and shrubs;
  • Retention of low-skyline city properties;
  • Increased social interactions between residents;
  • Reduced carbon footprint for commuters due to proximity to the city and workplaces;
  • Health benefits due to the greater ease of incorporating walking into daily routines;
  • Increased local amenity provision where it is part of a strategic initiative.

Where is it used?

Vancouver, consistently ranked as one of the best cities in the world in which to live, is regarded as the pioneer of laneway homes.  Brisbane, Perth and Los Angeles, among others, have incorporated it into their city planning:

What are the potential drawbacks?

Some cities have fallen away from implementing laneway houses, though Toronto has recently started to reconsider it, ( ).  Potential reasons for not embracing laneway housing include:

  • Reduced privacy;
  • Overlooked properties;
  • Health and safety concerns re density;
  • Effect on garbage and recycling collection, snow clearing, water services;
  • The lack of clear definition between public and private areas;
  • The lack of definition between the street and the front entrance;
  • The lack of pavement to the front entrance.

What is the future?

In Vancouver the push for laneway housing has sat alongside a programme of transforming detached single family homes into mixed occupancy apartments, often being split into a basement suite and a street-level home.  This increases the diversity of communities.

Where inner cities have already removed their low-rise spacious residences or none exist, it could be adopted as part of the sustainable neighbourhoods plan for some of the urban sprawl on the edge of cities alongside increasing accessible public transport and building to high quality standards including Passivhaus.


Photography courtesy of Mike Benna: and Deb Rousseau:

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