What’s the Deal with Parklets?

You might have noticed parklets gaining momentum in the last few years. Not only are they popping up in trendy neighbourhoods, but you can also find them in places where you least expect them. Sometimes they last for no more than a few days, while others stick around for years. And, each one is unique – you can see parklets dedicated to anything from restaurant seating to art show pop-ups to outdoor community libraries. 

So, what exactly are parklets? What is their purpose, and how can you define one? Can you expect to see more of them? And how will they affect your daily parking habits? 

In this article, we’re going to deconstruct the parklet. We’ll talk about the history, the worldwide movements, the backlash, and the future implications. If you’ve been curious about what these little mini parks are and what they mean for your parking experience, you’re in the right place.

Be ready to see those compact spaces in a whole new light! You might even be inspired to design your own!

What are parklets and where did they come from?

A parklet is a transformed parking space. It’s as simple as that. To build a parklet, all anyone really needs is an unused parking bay and whatever materials they can find to make the space comfortable. Some people use turf or a floor rug. You might see chairs, benches, or stools. There are even parklets that have electric hookups and free wifi. 

At the core, a parklet is a parking space that is designed for people – not cars – to enjoy. And, how someone transforms their parking space into a parklet is entirely up to them.

But…why? That’s where things get really interesting.  

Parklets are a relatively new concept. In fact, the first intentional parklets can be traced back to 2005 in San Francisco. A couple of coworkers from a design firm called Rebar hatched a parking space sized plan. They gathered the materials that they would need – a roll of turf, a park bench, a potted tree, and enough coins to pay for two hours worth of parking real estate. Then, they found a parking space near work, fed the metre, and set up the world’s first parklet. When the metre ran out, they packed up their parklet and left. 

As simple as their parklet was, it spurred an international conversation about the use of public space. From there, the Park(ing) Day movement was born, with the first annual event set to take place in 2006. The goal was to encourage people to build temporary parklets in their own communities. 

In its first year, Park(ing) Day enjoyed a surprising success. 13 countries joined in, creating 47 parklets across the globe. And in the 15 years since the very first turf covered parking space, parklets have made appearances everywhere from Argentina, to Ghana, to France and Singapore. 

Although Park(ing) Day and parklets have spurred debate over the use of public spaces. The original leaders say that protest or disruption was never at the core of their work. Instead, they wanted to explore new ways to provide value and meaning to public spaces so that everyone could enjoy their cities. Instead of putting up an art installation in an exclusive gallery, why not bring parks, parties, picnics into the open? 

How have Australians put their spin on parklets?

Australia wasn’t on the early wave of the parklet movement, but since the early 2010s, we’ve seen a burst in their popularity. Some have been temporary, but there are also parklets with permanent plans to beautify cities around the country. 

One of the first permanent parklets was the Leederville parklet on Oxford St, installed in 2012. A few years later in 2015 nearby Fremantle hosted a parklet competition, with more than ten groups designing their own unique parklet ideas. 

The same year, NSW saw the launch of the Glebe Point Road Trial Parklet Program and the installation of two new parklets. These popular parklets ran from September 2015 to January 16, until the City of Sydney revoked the parking permits. 

One of the longest lasting parklet movements has taken place in Moreland VIC, which has its own parklet program. Hosts can apply for short term or long term parklet permits through the local Council, who provide all furniture and some other equipment.

Clearly, cities around Australia have been mulling over the idea of turning parking bays into parklets for a few years. And where parklets have been installed, there’s been widespread community support. So, what’s the future of parklets?

Is now the right time for parklets?

It’s a good question, considering that cities around Australia are becoming ever more populated – shrinking our parking options in the process. So why would city governments want to further strain our competitive parking landscape with parklets? 

Well, on the one hand, they make our cities more liveable. With population increases, it’s a good idea to have areas to relax, enjoy fresh air, and interact with community members. And many restaurants and other local businesses love them. Sure, they may lose one parking bay in front of their storefront, but the trade-off is increased foot traffic, and a more appealing sidewalk presence. 

Another key thing to keep in mind is that parklets are becoming more popular during a time of public transport expansion. Especially in cities like Sydney, where public transport is getting a major facelift, many residents may prefer public green spaces to parking bays. 

Not everyone is on board, but they’re coming around to the idea

Parklets haven’t been accepted with open arms in every city. In fact, when urban designers first brought the idea to Sydney in 2015 with a parklet pop-up, local police shut the operation down in under 10 minutes quoting safety concerns. Moving forward, parklet enthusiasts have had to be more mindful of safety precautions, especially in high traffic areas. 

Beyond safety concerns, there are those worried about the effects of further limiting parking options. Parking Sydney and parking Melbourne is particularly competitive so these concerns are justified. After all, street parking in Sydney is already among the most expensive in the world – wouldn’t parklets just make the situation worse?

Not necessarily. The rates of street parking have been on the rise for a few years, and in that time, cheaper parking solutions have popped up to address the problem. Parkhound, for example, is a peer-to-peer parking option that allows you to rent an off-street parking space anywhere in Australia. In Sydney, you can find an average rate of $100 per week. Melbourne and Perth have even lower average weekly prices of $88 and $86, respectively. Many drivers prefer the safety and convenience of off-street parking, even when on-street parking is available. 

Overall, it seems that parklets will provide a lot more value than they take away in parking space. With increased public transport plus cheaper and more reliable parking alternatives, parklets are going to be right at home in our more livable cities.

What do you think of parklets?

Do you want to see more of these transformed parking bays in your area? Or do you still have some doubts about losing your on-street parking space options? We’d love to hear your opinions about parklets and how you think they’ll change parking Sydney, parking Melbourne, or parking wherever you live!