The first parklet was built in San Francisco in 2010. Today the city is home to 45, with another 40+ in the works. The same story is found across America, where peak parklet has hit urban neighbourhoods as different as New York’s outer boroughs and Oklahoma City’s inner city. The goals, though, are the same: replace car parking spots along High Streets and retail corridors with pedestrian amenity and landscape for a better, more beautiful public realm and increased safety too. It’s been a sort of ‘take back the streets’ movement, tactical but without huge fanfare. Sydney City Council, too, has officially gotten in on the parklet craze, welcoming its first to Glebe Point Road late last year. “Finally,” might be what local public space enthusiasts upon hearing the news mutter. But there is reason to remain optimistic, because if America’s parklet success is any indication, now that that they’re ‘finally’ here, they won’t be going anywhere.
Already, other Councils in the region have gotten in on the parklet action. In fact, the very parklet now sitting in Glebe has been busy welcoming weary, hungry pedestrians for well over a year in the streets of Randwick and Waverley Councils. It’s even helped Waverly win a few awards as part of its Bondi Junction Complete Streets Project.
“So many Councils, businesses and community groups want their own parklets,” explains Sam George, owner of SAMA Design, one of the individuals who originally built the parklet for Park to Pacific’s Clovelly Better Block demonstration. “As well as a range of other temporary installations, Randwick Council agreed to the installation of the parklet,” says Sam who was also one of the coordinators of Park to Pacific. Sam says it was meant to move up and down Clovelly Road as a way to demonstrate improved pedestrian amenity, so portability of the parklet was key.
Despite the overwhelming positive reaction from the community and nearby businesses, a few residents complained about the loss of one parking bay and Council decided to parted ways with the parklet after the 6 month trial.
Good thing it was designed with portability in mind, though, as Waverley Council got word of the homeless parklet and quickly made a move to welcome it to their city streets.
At the time, Waverley had been working on a range of innovative streetscape improvements such as Complete Streets, and had already installed some parklets previously in Bondi Junction, so they were more than enthusiastic about trialing the parklet for themselves. Following consultation with local businesses they decided on a location in Hall Street, the main café strip of Bondi Beach.
The parklet was simply lifted from Clovelly to Bondi and became an immediate success. “It was constantly full of people,” says Sam. “A local café quickly collected 600 signatures to support making the parklet permanent.”
Following the trial, Waverley Council commissioned and installed two more parklets, which they will be moving around the LGA. Sam realized the groundswell of support and opportunity he had on his hands: portable parklets for everyone! In no time he started incorporating the idea as a service offered through his consultancy, SAMA, and shopped it around to other Councils, eventually landing it along Glebe Point Road in Sydney. "Following Bondi I wanted to ensure that the parklet would remain in use," says Sam. "Glebe was a perfect fit."
There, the Glebe Chamber of Commerce ran another trial of the parklet in several locations, once again proving popular. “They even had a mini parklet festival with workshops, poetry, a community dinner and a street library,” adds Sam. “Throughout the trials we observed a variety of users – from people with take-away food, to mums with prams, to the elderly reading a newspaper. It’s been so rewarding to see a small intervention actually create community socialising spots.”
It’s no wonder, then, that the City of Sydney has extended the trial another 12 months. With such success, Sam says he expects other suburbs and Councils to get in on the action. “I really sense a groundswell of support for this approach to making streets more people-friendly,” says Sam. “I’m excited to be part of this movement!”