Nov. 22, 2013

Parklets

Seeing is believing, they say. I've seen photos of parklets installed in the US but didn't expect to see any here so soon. Now I have. And so can you if you make your way to Bondi Junction.

It's the work of Waverley Council and Drew Heath Architects and, as is common with such installations, makes better use of the car parking spaces that it occupies that did those vehicles.

For those still wondering, a parklet is a public space for sitting, eating lunch, meeting friends or taking a break amid the turmoil of daily urban life. Commonly, parklets occupy a couple of car parking or other spaces on the roadside, effectively expanding the area available to pedestrians beyond the footpath. And, commonly, they include seating, tables and vegetation in planters. 

One of the Bondi Junction parklets included something else too — a mobile device recharge station powered by the photovoltaic panels atop a tall tower structure. You place your mobile phone or pad on the bench and connect to one of the three USB sockets. Don't forget your recharge cable.

What parklets are not is a seating area set aside for footpath dining for cafes customers. Coffee drinkers can bring their beverages into the parklet, of course — I saw something like this some years ago in Fremantle where public tables and seating were set up close to a cafe — but they are public space, not private commercial space. 

Looking at the parklets I thought that this is just what the stretch of Clovelly Road that recently hosted the Clovelly Better Blocks event needs to bring life to that dull strip. When the roadside parking strip was closed and occupied by tables and a coffee cart during that event, you had a picture of what could be. The parklet idea would be the way to bring it into existence.

DESTINATION NOT THOROUGHFARE

The trouble with footpaths lies in the popular perception of them as transit corridors linking destinations. They are this, of course, but as parklets show they can also be destinations in their own right. 

Those at Bondi Junction were serving this purpose when I saw them. People were sitting eating lunch, chatting with friends, laying back in the warm morning sunlight and recharging mobile phones. 

Parklets are examples of those small, less expensive initiatives in tactical urbanism that councils can engage in to improve the amenity of public space, to make our cities more engaging and humane places. They are a way of reimagining roadside car parking space and a way of seeing the footpath as destination rather than uninteresting and often crowded thoroughfare.

A notice on those at Bondi Junction say they are a temporary installation. I hope not. The use they were receiving when I encountered them suggests that they are already a success, a success that should be retained and whose numbers should be multiplied to colonise other streetsides in need of populating with people.

Story and photos by Russ Grayson, 22 November 2013

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