- Streetscape is how the buildings, gardens, paths and road work together to create the ‘look and feel’ of a street.
- A streetscape that looks inviting can increase market demand and property prices.
- Well-designed streetscapes also encourage connection, friendship, and community spirit among residents, which in turn can support higher levels of health and wellbeing.
- If you are designing a home, try to make sure that it complements the existing streetscape. You do not have to copy your neighbours, but choose materials, colours and style consistent with others.
- To encourage connection, avoid high fences and garage frontages and leave space in your front yard for casual interaction.
- Consider community projects to bring people together, such as verge gardening, street libraries, or the development of open spaces to support pocket neighbourhoods.
Understanding good streetscape design
Streetscape is the term given to the collective appearance of all buildings, footpaths, gardens and landscaping along a street. The streetscape is the visual identity of a neighbourhood.
A streetscape that looks inviting is more likely to encourage people to live there, increasing market demand and property prices.
Most importantly, well-designed streetscapes encourage connection, understanding, and community spirit among residents. Attractive and functional streetscapes also increase residents’ quality of life and there is a strong link between social connection, health, and wellbeing. Such streetscapes can provide a more conducive environment for children to safely enjoy a degree of independent mobility and allow older people to retain independence.
An effective streetscape should convey a sense of openness and sharing while offering a degree of privacy.
Elements such as trees and footpaths encourage pedestrian activity, which reinforces social interaction and provides casual surveillance of the street. By providing shade, trees can help reduce temperatures on the street and footpath. They can also encourage birdlife and other biodiversity by providing habitat.
Elements of good streetscape design include:
- houses that may have unique designs but that fit together in a consistent pattern so that no single house is dominant
- private garden landscapes that complement the street planting
- fences and garden walls that are consistent in alignment, height, and style with others in the street
- garages that do not dominate the street frontage of blocks
- driveways of minimum width
- streets that give pedestrians and cyclists priority and are designed to discourage speeding
- good lighting
- clear sight lines between house entrances and the street, that provide good visibility to and from the street to maximise neighbourhood safety
- underground services to remove unsightly power lines and not impede street tree growth.
Photo: Getty Images
Work with your streetscape
Designing your home to complement the streetscape
Creating a sympathetic building to fit in with the streetscape does not mean that neighbouring house designs must be imitated. It means being conscious of the area’s natural environment, heritage significance, density, style, and social and cultural mix.
Creating a good streetscape has less to do with individual building designs than how the different buildings relate to each other. Houses can be diverse in age, shape, or style yet combine to create a neighbourhood identity. A development that is not sympathetic to the existing streetscape can significantly detract from the character of the neighbourhood.
Visit your local government for guidelines specific to your area. Local planners often understand the features that give a precinct its individual character and can help you find solutions that meet your needs without destroying that character.
When designing a new home or renovation, there are many ways you can contribute to an improved community identity and sense of place in your neighbourhood:
- Understand the character of your local area and design your home or renovation to harmonise. Your home should look like it belongs in the neighbourhood. For example:
- bulk, form, and height sympathetic to the character of the street, with heights reflecting both the highest point of a building and the façade facing the street
- roof pitch and street setback consistent with the neighbouring houses
- complementary materials and colours.
- Face houses towards streets, parks and open spaces to allow improved visibility and access. This encourages better use of public space, promoting safety and community spirit. The orientation of the house should still account for solar access considerations and compromises may be necessary, particularly on west-facing blocks.
- Consider how you can balance privacy needs with the ability for casual social interaction. Front gardens can be designed as pleasant spaces from which to greet neighbours without compromising the privacy of your house.
- Limit the width of driveways and share them where possible. This allows more of the street frontage to be landscaped and provides a better environment for pedestrians.
- If possible, present the house rather than the garage to the street. Generally, this means setting garages and carports behind the house frontage to minimise their visual impact. Where possible, use secondary streets or rear lanes for car access. This allows more landscaping at the street frontage and establishes a stronger visual connection between the house and the street for security. Rear lanes may also provide an alternate setting for play and socialising with neighbours.
- Plant trees or shrubs to enhance the quality and appearance of the street. Good planting increases property values and provides improved shade, habitat, windbreaks and air quality.
- Consider planting native species which provide a habitat for native animals. Many local councils and natural resource or catchment boards provide lists of appropriate plant species.
- Use street fencing that is consistent with the character of the neighbourhood, avoiding high walls or hedges that isolate the home from the street or impede visibility to the street.
- Avoid high walls or fences adjacent to driveways as they can endanger pedestrians by impeding sightlines for drivers.
Photo: Caitlin McGee
Source: Adapted from Jenny Donovan
Being a good neighbour
Ways to be a good neighbour when building, renovating or making home improvements include:
- offsetting your windows (so they do not directly face neighbour’s windows) to ensure maximum privacy
- using landscaping and other devices to selectively screen views
- choosing plant species that will not damage footpaths, structures or drainage, or invade adjacent bushland or impede pedestrian access
- not locating noisy areas (for example, pools, driveways, and service equipment) near the bedrooms or living areas of neighbours; locating driveways and parking areas at least 3 metres from bedroom windows
- locating your own bedrooms and private open spaces away from neighbouring noise sources
- avoiding directly overlooking your neighbour’s main living areas or garden space by careful location and design of windows and balconies
- avoiding building in a way that significantly reduces your neighbour’s enjoyment of daylight or direct sunlight, especially in living areas and private outdoor spaces
- avoid casting any shadow on your neighbour’s solar panels or solar hot water systems
- protecting as much as possible any significant views enjoyed by neighbouring properties, by using appropriate buildings setbacks and heights.
In recent years, community gardens on verges have become a popular way to build community and make more productive use of urban land. These gardens make streets more pleasant by increasing the amount of greenery and permeable surfaces and can take the form of native gardens, water-wise gardens, edible gardens, or some combination of these.
If you are interested in creating a verge garden on your street, check your local government guidelines. Many councils have policies and guidelines, and some may have an approval process you need to follow.
Once you have this information, you can get your neighbours together and plan what kind of garden you would like to create and how you will share responsibility for maintaining it.
You might choose to create raised planter boxes or to dig directly into the soil, depending on what your local council guidelines suggest. Make sure that the garden will not impede people’s access to the footpath or their homes, or important sight lines for the safety of pedestrians and traffic. If you are planning on creating an edible garden, you will need to think about possible contamination issues with the soil. It is also a good idea to discuss and agree how the garden is to be managed – that is, who will do the work – so it receives the water and care it needs to continue to thrive. Consider its long-term management so streetscape amenity is maintained.
Photo: Caitlin McGee
Street libraries provide a space for community members to leave and swap books. All that is needed is a simple weatherproof box that allows people to deposit their books and pick up those that others have shared. It is often helpful to include some instructions so that people understand what the street library is and how they can use it.
Photo: Caitlin McGee
Pocket neighbourhoods are groups of households that provide a sense of place and territory. They can be rural or urban, and can form the building blocks of much larger neighbourhoods. Streets can be transformed into pocket neighbourhoods, or designed as community-friendly places from the outset.
Shared outdoor space is a key element of a pocket neighbourhood. Pocket neighbourhoods accommodate cars but have a core area where individual homes face onto a shared, car-free space where people can sit and chat, and children can play. For example, a shared backyard or court becomes part of a home domain that includes friends and neighbours. This can make interaction with neighbours easier and facilitate the formation of friendships.
References and additional reading
- Chapin R (2011). Pocket neighborhoods: creating small-scale community in a large-scale world, Taunton Press, Newtown, Connecticut.
- Community Gardens Australia.
- Day C (2004). Places of the soul: architecture and environmental design as a healing art, Architectural Press, Boston.
- Engwicht D (1996). Towards an ecocity: calming the traffic, Envirobook, Sussex Inlet, NSW.
- Street Library.
- Williams J (2005). Designing neighbourhoods for social interaction: the case of cohousing. Journal of Urban Design 10(2):195–227.
- Read Preliminary research to ensure you know what you are looking for when you design and build a home
- Explore Orientation to find out how to best situate your home on the site
- Refer to Designing a home to discover how to make sure you end up with a comfortable, energy-efficient home
Original author: Scott Woodcock
Contributing authors: Steve Shackel, Chris Reardon
Updated: Paul Downton 2013, Laura Wynne and Caitlin McGee 2020