Cars or pedestrians? Retailers in the central-city fashion precinct of High St are divided over the idea of vehicles and pedestrians sharing the same space.

On Friday as part of Park(ing) Day, an annual worldwide event where people transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks, the likes of Generation Zero, landscape architecture students and the council set up several "parklets" along High and Lorne streets.

This followed a public meeting the night before where fashion leaders, retailers and lawyers revolted against the removal of a narrow strip of road as part of a $4 million redesign of Freyberg Square.

It is a year since nearby O'Connell St was turned into a shared space, which has pleased some retailers and left others frustrated.


The Herald spoke to retailers and those involved in the parklets to gauge their views.

Murray Crane, menswear designer, Crane Brothers, High St
Mr Crane is not opposed to shared spaces, but believes other things should happen in High St "before going ahead with the scorched earth policy". Cars come, go, and it works. Take cars away and you take away some of the life from High St, says Mr Crane, who has been in business in High St for 16 years. Closing off the 30m "escape valve" that crosses Freyberg Square from High St to Courthouse Lane will not fix other problems such as lighting.

Emma McInnes, Generation Zero cycling spokeswoman
Generation Zero converted two parking spaces on High St into a parklet on Friday. The day before, the youth lobby group counted nine motorists using the carparks. About 400 people dropped by the parklet on Friday for a chat, free coffee and to admire bunches of flowers. Ms McInnes sympathised with retailers but wanted to show people how High St could benefit as a pedestrian space.

Claire Dutton, owner Strangely Normal store, O'Connell St
The nearly six months it took to upgrade O'Connell St last year resulted in an 80 per cent drop in foot traffic and had a financial impact, says Ms Dutton. She cannot understand why the work took so long and why the council refuses some kind of rebate to affected businesses. Ms Dutton supports the shared space concept, but says there has not been a great improvement in business "but that's not to say it won't be better in years to come".

Shawn Pope, Cafe Melba, Vulcan Lane
Mr Pope says business has not recovered from the O'Connell St upgrade, blaming the council for pushing out people who want to drive into the city. He and other retailers want to know what the council's vision is for the precinct around High St. When council planner Lisa Spasic told Thursday's meeting that "your vision is our vision", Mr Pope said: "If it is, put some more cars back in O'Connell St."

Antoine Salles, Touquet restaurant, O'Connell St
The Parisian chef bought the former Merlot restaurant in December 2013, not long before work started on the O'Connell St upgrade. He says business has been good since the upgrade was completed in August last year, helped by a "Thursdays on O'Connell" promotion last summer that included closing off the street for al fresco events. Mr Salles doesn't understand the opposition to shared spaces. London, Paris, Sydney and Melbourne have all witnessed more pedestrianisation, he says.

Michelle Deery, co-owner Hotel DeBrett, with entrances on High St and O'Connell St
Ms Deery supports shared use for High St and Freyberg Square, hailing O'Connell St a great success. Foot traffic is greatly improved and it has become a great summer destination. She does, however, have grave concerns for business and the community about the proposal to remove vehicles through Freyberg Square.

Maud Cahill, Jason Books, O'Connell St
Ms Cahill says the idea that turning O'Connell St into a shared space would suddenly bring more customers is misjudged, but she likes what the council has done. Foot traffic, she says, is increasing and putting tables out on the street is making it more alive. Ms Cahill says Freyberg Square is heavily used and the council needs to be careful it doesn't take away what makes it a success, such as the seats and trees. Closing the road crossing the square is a good idea: "I'm a bit committed to getting rid of cars".