Active frontages are promoted in planning policy as ‘best practice’. While acknowledging the importance of public-private interfaces for street-life vitality, this paper questions the widespread uncritical adoption of ‘active everywhere’ controls. For example, what is the effect of the requirement for street-level frontages to be clear glazed shop window or entry, especially in a time of disruptions to ‘bricks and mortar’ retail? The study includes a case study investigation of the Forrest Hill precinct, a former light-industrial area 3km south-east of Melbourne’s Central Activities District (CAD) which has undergone intensive high-density mixed-use re-development since 2004.
By analysing observed behaviours in relation to built-form outcomes, and users’ sensory perceptions (captured in walk-along video/audio recordings), the case study contributes to an understanding of the impact of active frontage controls on the street-level public realm. The conceptual framework is informed by affordance theory, which offers a pathway for understanding the relationship between environment and occupants. Looking beyond affordances as opportunities for action, this study also explores sensory affordance, or atmosphere; specifically, the fine grain details and materiality that contribute to atmosphere and the perception of urban quality at pedestrian level. Using insights gained from the case study and desktop research, this paper seeks a more critical approach to urban codes for this important socio-spatial interface, i.e. a flexible framework that affords innovative strategies, and a broader range of assessment tools to be employed.