The 'little' streets in the City of Melbourne - Little Flinders, Little Collins, Little Bourke and Little Lonsdale Streets - run north of, and parallel to, Flinders, Collins, Bourke and Lonsdale streets respectively between Spring and Spencer streets. This arrangement was a feature of the grid plan decided upon by Sir Richard Bourke, Governor of New South Wales, in March 1837. As Melbourne was developed allotments originally purchased from the Crown were subdivided and resubdivided. Many buildings, some of them substantial, came to be erected along the 'little' streets, or along the lanes running off them that were created in the process of subdivision - 80 named lanes by 1856, and 158 by 1895, almost all running from 'little' streets. Traffic problems increased; and from 1916 traffic in Little Collins and Little Flinders streets, between Queen and Swanston streets, was required to proceed in a westerly direction only. Gradually this requirement was extended to the other portions of those streets and to portions of Little Bourke and Little Lonsdale streets, until by the end of 1950 it applied to the whole of each. On 19 June 1961 the direction of the flow in Little Lonsdale Street was reversed and since then it has been easterly.
Legislation of 1940 empowered the Melbourne City Council to acquire land along the frontages of the 'little' streets and to widen the footways by about 2 metres. The Council only did so as buildings were redeveloped, yet by 1986 approximately 45% of the length of the 'little' streets had been widened or was available for widening. But by then it was recognised that they provided part of the character of Melbourne and that the legislation was deterring the refurbishment and restoration of adjacent buildings. Moreover, the government considered that civic improvements were better accomplished through city planning controls, and in 1986 the 1940 legislation was repealed.
There has been variation in the nomenclature of the 'little' streets. Flinders Lane, an alternative name for Little Flinders Street, has become the name more commonly used and indeed was reaffirmed by the City Council as the official name in 1948. The portion of Little Collins Street between William and Queen streets was for many years known as Chancery Lane and the corresponding portion of Little Bourke Street as Law Courts Place. The portion of Little Bourke Street between Queen and Swanston streets was Post Office Place, that between Exhibition and Spring streets was Gordon Place; the portion of Little Lonsdale Street between William and Queen streets was Mint Place and that between Elizabeth and Swanston streets was Lonsdale Place. These variants were officially discontinued from 1 July 1964 by resolution of the City Council.