Going green: How leafy streets can boost foot traffic


Beyond the social and environmental benefits and aesthetic appeal, the addition of green spaces in urban areas can have an enlivening effect on the retail industry, boost the local economy and make shopping a more appealing prospect. Research from the City of Melbourne demonstrated that customers would pay upwards of 10 per cent more for goods sold in CBDs if there were high-quality tree canopy, and would visit more often and stay longer in shopping districts with tree coverage.  Further, R

her, RMIT-led research published in the npj Urban Sustainability journal proposed converting 10,000 on-street parking spots into green spaces to bring people into the city, and provide protection against extreme weather events.

Environment portfolio lead councillor for the City of Melbourne Rohan Leppert told Inside Retail that urban greening supports the local economy by providing natural spaces for locals and visitors to enjoy.

He added that it boosts foot traffic to local businesses, increases expenditure and adds to Melbourne’s vibrant social traffic.

“We know that Melburnians and visitors to our city spend more time in inviting, green spaces where they can keep cool and connect with nature – and that’s why we’re working to create more natural spaces with our Green your Laneway program,” he said.

The council has transformed city laneways including Guildford Lane, Meyers Place, Katherine Place and Coromandel Place into green, usable spaces. The council is looking to add to the number of green spaces through the development of pocket parks, such as in Bedford Street in North Melbourne, which will create 1500sqm of open space. 

It is also trialling the installation of green roofs on tram stops throughout the CBD, and has developed an interactive laneway greening map, to identify laneways with potential for greening.

Australian Retail Association CEO Paul Zahra believes that adding green spaces to an otherwise harsh or busy urban landscape can soften the image of a location, add to its perception as a safe environment and make it a more compelling destination for retail.

“Going green is part of a sustainability and regen[eration] trend that will only increase in impact in the coming year or so,” he said.

“Australians are intensely focused on improving environmental outcomes, and trees and plants are seen as making a positive contribution to the environment. We can see this reflected in the push to outdoor and rooftop gardens within urban spaces as well. 

“As long as it doesn’t invade or reduce the retail store spaces, it can only be perceived as a positive by retailers and their customers.” 

“Traffic congestion is not a plus”

Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning at the University of Melbourne, Dr Judy Bush believes there are many opportunities to create or increase green spaces in urban areas across Australia.

She explains that land allocation should be critically assessed to evaluate whether it’s being used to create liveable, sustainable and resilient urban areas.

“For example, heat is one of the most lethal natural disasters, and increasing greening is one of the most effective methods for cooling cities. As our urban temperatures continue to increase with climate change, we need to be thinking about how we can ensure cities are usable for all,” Bush told Inside Retail.

“There was some research that looked at the economic impact of heatwaves and found substantial impacts to economic and retail activity during heatwaves. Increasing greening around retail areas might contribute to reducing the economic impacts during heatwaves, as well as making the areas more attractive.”

She added that public space is often allocated to the storage of private property – such as on-street parking for cars – and points to local examples, such as Lygon Court in Melbourne’s inner north, that have successfully transformed car spaces into bike spaces.

She also referenced an article citing a ban on overnight street parking in Japan. 

“I remember seeing an evaluation of greening in London from 2016 [that] pointed to the economic benefits associated with greening – creating aesthetically pleasing [green] landscapes makes shopping areas more attractive and popular,” she said.

“If we create a diversity of places that are attractive and interesting and safe, we’re more likely to go there, [which] should create opportunities for surrounding retailers. Traffic congestion is not a plus in terms of attracting people to an area.”

Regarding the creation of green spaces in urban areas, Zahra said that there’s a need to strike a balance between competing interests and the needs of the community. He added that it’s a consideration for planning departments within each municipality.

“There isn’t a cookie-cutter approach,” he said.

“[But] appropriate planning and consultation can help to ensure that everyone’s needs are met,” he said.

A calming effect

According to Zahra, there is tremendous scope for retailers and shopping centres to create their own green spaces, but it requires collaboration and support from local and state governments.

He cites the $40 million CovidSafe outdoor activation fund – an initiative he believes should be resurrected – with a similar type of program or initiative potentially driving the development of more green retail spaces.

He added that the cooling effect from more trees could potentially lead to energy savings for nearby retailers – while also leading to a more pleasant shopping environment – and that there are mental health benefits attributed to green spaces.

“Not all shopping is fun, and can be stressful at times, so creating green spaces to allow wearied shoppers to relax has a calming [effect], which ultimately could translate to more retail sales.”

Using Stockholm, Copenhagen and Lund as successful examples, Bush contends that shifting the balance away from car parking, and toward “splendid pedestrian walkways” in cities is definitely worth investigating,

“Transitions are often complex and confronting [and] change can be difficult to navigate,” she said. 

“I think we all need to work together to visualise the city we want, and then work backwards from there to work out how we can create it in a fair, equitable and sustainable way.”


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