The benefit of parklets is more than meets the eye

What role could parklets play in creating a greener, more resilient Greater Manchester? Groundwork’s landscape architect Nick Linder explains

What is a parklet?

Often borrowed from the highway or road, a parklet is a small area of land converted into a pleasant seating space with softening elements such as planting. The growing demand for more pedestrianisation in our towns and cities compliments the introduction of green infrastructure, such as parklets, which provide a much needed resting space from the hustle and bustle of urban environments. The COVID-19 pandemic saw a widespread surge in parklets up and down the country as a means of controlling social distancing, but far-ranging benefits started to emerge about how these small pockets of green space could play a pivotal role in our cities future.

Benefits and Features

From council town improvement schemes to commercial ventures and community led projects, parklets can emerge from a wide variety of places. Though their focus is very much based on who initiates them, they all aspire to improve urban areas; spaces to socialise, a reason to cycle, a nature based solution to the effects of climate change.

Salford Parklet

Skyliners picture of Salfords very own parklet, outside the Eagle Inn pub.

Pictured above is Salford’s first major parklet, rewarded by all-embracing compliments across social media – not only on the way it looks, but the way it works. Situated among brickwork and paving, the space offers a calming relief to those in its proximity. Embedded within the design is the use of soft planting which in it’s own right provides a huge boost to biodiversity, offering a welcome invite to wildlife. Whilst aesthetically pleasing, parklets like this one also help to absorb rain water run off from surrounding buildings, reducing flood and climate risks.

In a push to get more people opting for active modes of transport like walking or cycling, these mini parks are often designed with cyclists in mind; a safe space to leave your bicycle whilst exploring the city centre, going for a bite to eat or re-fuelling with a coffee. In August 2020, a 16% increase in walking and cycling was reported across Greater Manchester, equating to around one million trips a week. Ultimately, attractive green-space design can persuade us to spend more time in our towns and cities, supporting safer roads and reducing air pollution and vehicle emissions.

Stockports first ever parklet was designed with cyclists in mind. Photo by Andy

Benefits to communities

Living streets promote parklets as a means for communities to improve and green their local streets.  Whilst this brings multiple benefits to the urban realm such as city cooling, pollution trapping and flash flooding reduction, it also has significant improvements on our mental health and wellbeing.

Greater Manchesters ground-breaking natural environment project, Ignition, aims to highlight the benefits of working with nature and the development of green spaces to tackle socio-environmental challenges. The projects evidence base found that street trees can reduce childhood asthma by up to 29%, in conjunction with reducing poor mental health by 50% when exercising in green space. By optimising parklets to include street trees and planting, children have a safe space to play outside, as well as a hub for neighbours to build togetherness.

A place dominated by community spirit rather than cars and congestion. Photo by Streets for People

Benefits to Business

For businesses, parklets could be the window of opportunity, a brilliant strategy to alleviate lost capacity. In 2019, Cyclehoop reported that their Modular parklets showed an increase in business orders by around 10% and 20% – a trend which has been maintained and described by one owner as evidence that the parklet has the “staying power”.

New research from Transport for London (TfL) also suggests that cyclists spend around 40% more in London shops than motorists do. As a tool to keep active citizens enthusiastically roaming our streets for longer, parklets could be key to building back better as we opt for a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest parklet installed on Kennedy Street, Manchester, outside of the The Vine Inn pub. Photo by Michael D’ambra

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