The widespread development of parklets during the COVID-19 pandemic provides a useful indicator of the varying capacities of urban streets for transformations that enhance urban vitality. The distribution of Melbourne’s parklets reveals both the potentials and the impediments for converting carspace on streets for new uses.
A parklet is a small, barrier-protected space which temporarily transforms kerbside parking space for public use. During 2020-21, hundreds of café parklets incrementally transformed Melbourne’s streetscapes to meet new needs for hospitality businesses to provide socially-distance outdoor dining.
This paper maps and analyses 594 parklets across metropolitan Melbourne, identified from aerial surveys and field observation. We examined a range of urban design factors across various scales that positively and negatively impact the supply and demand for parklets in individual streets. Our analysis identifies streets’ varying capacities for enhancing local pedestrian and commercial activities. It also challenges policy-makers, planners and designers to address a variety of impediments to improving pedestrian-friendly street environments.
Our mapping shows that 35 of the 51 major retail precincts in inner Melbourne host parklets. Parklets thrive on traditional ‘high streets’ that have small-scale shopfronts, mixed use, pedestrian density and good transport links, but relatively little through-traffic. Many parklets cluster along tram routes, which slow traffic and enhance access. Commercial streets terminating near Melbourne’s bayfront are especially well-served with parklets. Parklets are also concentrated along five of inner Melbourne’s six major north-south commercial streets. These are relatively less- trafficked commercial streets. They also receive lunchtime sunshine on both kerbsides, attracting more pedestrians and parklets.
Parklets are scarce where streets lack pedestrians, including commercial precincts such as indoor shopping malls, Southbank and Docklands, which have different urban morphologies that largely segregate streets and cars from pedestrian spaces. They lack business-to-street interfaces where parklets can intervene.