Will cars destroy Preston Market?Posted: June 4, 2010
The biggest threat to Preston Market is cars.
I got thinking about this after I had lunch there last Friday. As always, I was taken in by the mad rush and vitality of the place and the sense that much of it is still essentially the same as it was when it started. I was surprised to learn that it’s a relatively young institution, having only been established in 1970 (although Preston proper is considerably older – it was connected to Flinders Street by rail in the 1920s and experienced a major population boom in the 1950s).
Initially, I was wondering if the Market is vulnerable to the increasing gentrification in the area, but then I realised Victoria Market has withstood demographic changes in the inner city reasonably well. Sure, it’s pretty middle class now but the deli and meat sections at Vic Market are unsurpassed in Melbourne. So while gentrification of Preston Market will undoubtedly diminish its authenticity – and that is the vital ingredient for some customers – it will not necessarily undermine its viability.
Which brings me to the threat to the Market posed by cars – not too many cars, but too few!
I saw a flyer issued by the Market parking manager to stall holders advising of a new parking scheme. I don’t know when it commences, but rather than fine parkers who stay beyond the initial free two hour period (one hour near Aldi), the new arrangement will charge them $1 for each additional hour. How that will work financially for the parking operator is a puzzle (how will they administer it cost-effectively?), but it’s their money.
What worries me much more is that the existing incentive to turn over parking spaces (i.e. get out or get fined), will be watered down by the new arrangement. Instead of a maximum 2 hours, you will now park 3 hours for $1 and 4 hours for $2. That will greatly reduce the incentive for motorists to move on after two hours. It will not help Market businesses who want to maximise the number of customers. It could even make it worthwhile to use the Market car park for park-and-ride trips to the CBD.
The risk is that shoppers will find it even harder to get a parking spot than it is at present and decide to shop elsewhere, thereby starting a potential downward spiral in the Market’s fortunes. Some serious thinking needs to go into how to encourage turnover but at the same time not discourage shoppers from coming to the Market in the first place.
What this issue emphasises is the Market’s dependence on cars.
A concentration of specialised retail activity on the scale of Preston market can’t function on a small catchment of local residents who walk – it needs to be “fed” by a large catchment of visitors arriving by car. Perhaps in that sense it’s no surprise that it sprang to life in the 70s.
Even a fleeting visit to the Market will show that many shoppers rely on their cars to carry home large quantities of meat, vegetables and fruit. Like Victoria Market, the place is full of shoppers wheeling double-deck trolleys from store to store and thence to the car park.
So parking is an essential complement to the Market. Without the ability to drive, many fewer shoppers would use it. If this valuable asset is to be retained, it is vital that development plans for the Preston activity centre do not sacrifice parking at the Market on the mistaken assumption that walking and public transport will be adequate substitutes for cars – that day might come, but in the foreseeable future policy needs to focus on encouraging car-based Preston Market shoppers, like other drivers, to use smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles.