Do parklets really boost business? University City District gets the data

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Originally published at flyingkitemedia.com


Are parklets -- the conversion of one or two parking spaces into an outdoor seating area complete with traffic-buffering plantings -- really a boost for nearby businesses? While plenty of detractors still insist that nothing maintains revenue and customer base like convenient parking, University City District (UCD) set out to quantify the impact of Philly’s first-everparklets.

Working with the City of Philadelphia, UCD installed parklets in the spring and summer of 2011, turning parking spaces into attractive outdoor seating areas with the cooperation of adjacent businesses, who helped with clean-up and nighttime security for the benches and tables.

It seems like a socially, environmentally and economically positive initiative, but would the data be there to prove it? In March, UCD’s department of planning and economic development released a report titled "The Case for Parklets: Measuring the Impact on Sidewalk Vitality and Neighborhood Businesses."

The sample size so far is small: the user numbers, activities and demographics of six University City parklets observed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in spring and summer of 2013. But UCD Manager of Policy and Research Seth Budick insists that the results buoy the case for more parklets in Philly and beyond.

He notes that the busiest parklets were near small businesses, including restaurants with more customers than they could seat inside.

"If you provide additional seating outside the business in a comfortable, attractive way, that’s going to right away have a positive association with sales," he argues.

Numbers from four participating University City businesses bear this out: On average, they saw a 20 percent increase in sales while the parklets were installed (remarkable, the study notes, since the summer is not the season of peak traffic in University City, when many students are away).

According to UCD, the parklets attracted a crowd, especially those stationed outside a taco shop and an ice cream parlor: "Over 150 unique users over the course of a day in the 240 square feet that could otherwise have hosted just one or two parked cars."

But there are less tangible benefits, too.

"The parklet just changes people’s larger perceptions of a street," says Budick. "Instead of being a place you merely pass through, it becomes a hub of activity, a nexus for the community."

Especially in an "urban village" like University City where many residents know one another, it’s a chance to meet friends in the street, linger in a comfortable outdoor place or stop into neighboring businesses for an impromptu snack or drink.

According to Budick, one parklet at 43rd and Baltimore was a particularly good example of this. Already a "crossroads of the neighborhood" near the park, a farmer’s market and many businesses, a new "synergy" popped up in the former parking space.

"That feeds back into business activity," he continues. "It’s really what we call placemaking -- creating what people perceive as a place where before it was an intersection."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Seth Budick, University City District


View "Do Parklets" at flyingkitemedia.com

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