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Increased outdoor dining through the implementation of parklets has allowed hospitality businesses to survive, and some even thrive, though Victoria's COVID-19 restrictions. But with the loss of precious on-street car parking, will parklets remain in a post-Covid climate?
In September 2020, the Victorian State Government announced their $58 million Outdoor Eating and Entertainment Package as a way to support the continued operation of hospitality businesses under Victoria's COVID-19 social distancing restrictions. Grants of up to $5,000 were made available to businesses to implement a safe and practical outdoor dining environment, with the State Government also providing funding to Councils to assist implementing a streamlined permit, enforcement and monitoring process. Businesses across Victoria have been able to increase their outdoor dining capacity by extending their service area to the footpath of a neighbouring business, as well as utilising road space as an extension of outdoor dining, most notably with the provision of parklet dining.
A parklet is an on-street car parking bay that has been repurposed and functions as an extension of the footpath, providing space for additional activity. Parklet dining provides hospitality businesses an opportunity to expand, or introduce, outdoor dining to their venue, within on-street parking spaces fronting their premises. Parklets can also comprise of multiple consecutive on-street car parking spaces, with outdoor dining for neighbouring hospitality venues consolidated into one larger parklet. The City of Melbourne has encouraged this within their Extended Outdoor Dining Guidelines, to "create an attractive and viable outdoor dining space." Parklet dining has also been implemented in areas where footpaths are typically too narrow to provide outdoor dining, providing these businesses with an increased customer capacity. Parklet design can vary with some providing built-in seating, decking and landscaping, while others simply comprise of bollards and traffic barriers.
Parklet dining has successfully been implemented across Victoria, from inner urban areas such as Richmond and Brunswick, to regional areas including Bendigo, Geelong and Apollo Bay, with positive reception from businesses and customers alike. A survey conducted by City of Melbourne of 150 business found:
- 81% indicated that outdoor dining parklets had helped their business to reopen.
- 76% indicated that they had helped maintain seating capacity.
Positive reception has also been seen in regional areas. A survey conducted in Ocean Grove, by the City of Greater Geelong, finding that 77% of the 163 people surveyed support the temporary installation of parklets along The Terrace.
This acceptance of parklet dining is having an effect on the attitudes of businesses. One City of Yarra business owner stated that "The loss of the single car park has not been missed". With business and community support, these temporary changes have the potential to increase the public’s buy-in experience, leading to future permanent change.
Parklets can also provide increased public amenity by providing a better environment for pedestrians. As outdoor dining often takes up a significant portion of a footpath, outdoor dining within a parklet provides pedestrians with increased pavement width, enhancing walkability and greater separation from moving traffic. In addition, the reallocation of on-street car parking may align with Council vision towards more vibrant and sustainable activity precincts.
While the benefits of parklets from a business and user perspective are plentiful, they most notably result in the direct loss of on-street car parking, with consolidated parklets potentially eliminating whole blocks of on-street parking. The loss of on-street parking is a divisive issue for both road users and traders alike. One City of Yarra business owner stated "It is a disaster as it takes away from valuable parking spaces for my customers." The loss of revenue as a result of parklets has been felt by some Councils. The Yarra City Council has lost more than $172,000 a month in labour costs and foregone parking revenue as a result.
Some businesses have not been able to take opportunity of parklet dining, due to their location or perceived difficulty in the application process. Councils have numerous eligibility criteria that businesses must meet for parklet approval. For example, the City of Melbourne does not consider streets with a speed limit above 50km/h appropriate for parklet dining. Furthermore, if a business is located on an arterial road, Department of Transport approval is required for any parklet dining, who require a Traffic Management Plan to be prepared and reviewed by a Road Safety Auditor.
As Victoria transitions towards a "COVID Normal" state, Councils have begun to consider the future of parklet dining. The City of Melbourne have already extended their Outdoor Dining Program to June 30 2021, and the City of Moonee Valley have launched an Autumn Parklet Program, based the success of their initial Summer Parklet Program. On the basis of community and trader feedback, the City of Greater Geelong have also extended their outdoor dining activation in Ocean Grove to April 18. Several Councils are currently engaging with businesses and the community to decide the future of expanded outdoor dining.
Parklets have been embraced by businesses and customers alike, adding another way to enjoy Melbourne’s vibrant food and drink culture. While the implementation of parklet dining initially came about as a way to assist the hospitality industry during Victoria’s COVID-19 restrictions, their success is a sign of public support for permanent change. Although parklet dining may not always be suitable in a local context, or even liked by some, users should be able to continue enjoying the benefits that parklets bring to the community. With the public becoming accustomed to parklet dining, and familiar with their place in the streetscape, their retention could be seen as an opportunity to increase amenity and support aspirations for vibrant and sustainable activity centres. It will be up to hospitality businesses and their customers to ensure that their support maintains parklet dining and drives parklets to be a permanent fixture of our streetscapes.
Author: Laura Brown, Transport Engineer