Your local town centre is probably suffering right now. Vacant shops can't find any brands of note, because they're all in the MegaMall nearby. The shops that are on the high street are on low rents, which is discouraging new capital from investors. And the road is full of stop-start snarling traffic that dissuades shoppers from lingering.
On the other side of town, MegaMall is doing well. They've spent a fortune on a multi-storey car park (at an average cost of $50,000 per space!), the conditioned air inside is free from motorist fumes, and kids can run free in the food courts and playgrounds.
So is there any hope for the local shops? Absolutely - but the focus needs to change from being a car park, to being a people place, and shopping centres can teach local shops how.
Local shops should encourage the re-allocation of the retail strip to features that attract and retain shoppers: seating, planting, playgrounds, as well as alternative transport choices with bus and bike lanes. Humans are social animals, and the presence of others encourages more to join.
For decades, shop owners have been convinced that the only way to get people into their
store is to have a plethora of parking on the doorstep, as no one will walk more than five
metres from the car door. This theory is debunked by shopping centres themselves, where customers will gladly drag a trolley, six bags and three children across a couple of hectares of tarmac to reach their vehicle.
Rather, shoppers value the quality of the destination far more that the vicinity of parking. Look at Osborne St in Newmarket, where the removal of car parks has allowed footpaths to expand, a dingy alley to live anew, and brands such as Juliette Hogan, AS Colour and I Love Ugly to appear.
Case in point is High St. Once the glittering jewel in Auckland's boutique offerings, it's now a 24/7 traffic jam with walkers squished between courier vans and rubbish bags. A few High St tenants still think that if their customer can't park outside the door, they're not going to make the effort. Yet only a block away the previously unheralded O'Connell St saw the light, ditched the cars, and now boasts some of the best retail foot traffic in the area.
If you don't believe me, go ask Sumthin' Dumpling if they want parking outside their shop.
Newmarket is overdue for a reimagining of its Broadway, and with 2500 new car spaces at Westfield to complement the thousands already in place, drivers won't need to park on the main road. Parallel parking slows traffic for an eternity, so is poorly suited for thoroughfares.
That space should instead be used to cater for the throngs of happy consumers traipsing between independent laneways and international retailers.
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A large-scale litmus test of this theory will be Dominion Rd, home to one of the most outstanding and diverse culinary districts in Auckland. In a few years the airport light rail line will redefine this artery. But despite removing dozens of car parks, and preventing vehicles from speeding through built up areas, the retail performance will almost certainly improve following construction. Thousands of new customers will discover the ease of access and improved streetscape, and flock to enjoy dumplings, ramen and stir fry.
Local shops should encourage the re-allocation of the retail strip to features that attract and retain shoppers: seating, planting, playgrounds, as well as alternative transport choices with bus and bike lanes. Increasing the dwell times will improve community cohesion as well as customer spend. Humans are social animals, and the presence of others encourages more to join. Ponsonby Central has closed its car park, but the crowds still flock because of the superior atmosphere.
Catering for drivers is still important, particularly in areas poorly served by transit. However the better the destination, the less important parking proximity becomes. Provide plenty of timed spots on side streets, coupled with a residents parking scheme if required.
Local boards should work with Auckland Transport to be smart around retail precincts and
parking. Convenience retail needs 10-minute parking spots close by, while cafes, fashion
and destination shops need one or two hours but these parks can be at a distance. Zones where you want people to linger should be attractive and safe, places where you're happy for your kids to play.
When it comes to choosing where to shop, people consider three points: choice, amenity
and transport. If you put parking above people, don't be surprised when shoppers give you a miss.
• Graeme Gunthorp is a City Vision candidate for Waitematā Local Board, and manages a portfolio of shopping centres around New Zealand