Think you need car-parking spaces to cater for customers? Maybe not. Build a ‘pocket park’ outside your store for a day and see what happens. Carlton Reid investigates this new craze...

SPOKESMAN: Reclaim YOUR streets

A bike-shop-cum-cafe in San Francisco has pulled off a coup. It has successfully persuaded the municipality to make a permanent no-parking zone in front of the store. Mojo Bicycle Cafe is to install decking, bamboo planters, tables and chairs in a spot that was previously two car parking spaces.

To many retailers this seems the height of lunacy: everybody drives, even to bike shops, so it’s essential to have convenient places for customers to park. But is it? Retailers and cafe-owners of all types are finding out all around the world that getting rid of cars doesn’t necessarily mean you lose customers.

In fact, the opposite usually happens. When localities become pedestrian and bike-friendly, they become nicer places to live, work, play… and shop. Bike shops really ought to be at the front of the queue when it comes to lobbying councils to make more room for people, and less for cars. Take baby steps if permanent pedestrian- friendly infrastructure seems too radical. Once a year or once a month, reclaim the car parking spaces outside your shop, and seek to rope in other retailers too.

Sure, there will be retailers who view the world only through a windscreen, but spell out the economic benefits of less cars and you may convert them. There are many schemes to be inspired by. Reclaim The Streets might be too anarchist for some folks so check out Parking Day, an international campaign developed by Rebar, a San Francisco art collective. This is an annual day to reclaim parking spaces by filling them with turf, pot plants, deck chairs – there’s even a pedal-powered mini-park, complete with park bench, a tree and lush grass.

It was a temporary Parking Day that inspired Mojo Bicycle Cafe co-owner Remy Nelson to ask the San Franciso planning department for a permanent ‘pocket park’. Nelson is vice president of his district merchant’s association and said other retailers will soon clamour for what he’s got.

“My shop is in the middle of a block and when I look out my front window, I’m usually looking at parked cars,” said Nelson. “The public is going to see the new scheme and they’re going to forget there ever was a parking lot there.”

The space outside his shop will be covered in a decking platform, with planters and bike parking stands. The platforms are modular and could be installed in other locations, said San Francisco’s planning department. The city gave a grant for the platform. Perhaps your locality might too?

That’s not just a hope of mine; it’s happening. City planners are waking up to the fact that storing people’s one-ton boxes, often for no charge, is becoming unacceptable. For a start, it’s expensive.

The goal for a shopping area should be to attract the largest possible number of people, not the largest number of cars as they waste an incredible amount of space. Making life hard for motorists may seem stupid to many retailers, but making streets more friendly to humans, and less friendly to cars, can do wonders for till receipts. Lobby your council for permission to turf and humanise any parking spot in front of your shop – I wager you’ll not want to go back to having cars outside.

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