Saturday, 22 April 2017

Greening Grey Britain

As someone with a rather unloved front garden, I've loved watching Joe Swift on 'The Great British Garden Revival' encouraging us all to cover the concrete with pots and planters and am keen to finally play my part in the RHS' 'Greening Grey Britain Campaign', by digging up some paving slabs and finally being able to do something to make my street a little bit greener and a little bit more attractive.

This did mean I was a little surprised (and rather annoyed!) to see an episode of 'Homes Under the Hammer' in which the advice, given several times, was to pave over the front of one of the properties to create space for a car to 'add value'. Is it really more valuable to turn our gardens into parking spaces? Can we be bold and say that paving over entire front gardens is making our streets look ugly, damaging our local environment and making pavements unsafe, all for the sake of personal convenience?

We were fortunate enough to attend Southwark's 'Transforming London's Streets' conference in September and one of the speakers, Rob Cowan of Urban Design Skills, promoted the view that councils could be bold and refuse new applications for dropped kerbs and that we should instead be promoting the view that greener, planted gardens create better community spaces. One of his arguments for this view is that our pavements would become safer if they stopped becoming access points for parking spots and were transformed into safe, communal spaces.

I must agree that I worry many streets aren't safe enough for my daughter to scoot or ride on ahead of me due to the number of driveways she'd have to cross. Is digging up our driveways the way to create more safe place for play?

Agreed, it would be inconvenient not to be able to park exactly where you want, when you want. But perhaps, if we couldn't, we might start considering options such as car clubs, more seriously. Or perhaps, we may even consider the 5 minute journey to pick up the car enough of an inconvenience to consider ditching it altogether to get the bus or train instead. And from there it could even get us walking and cycling more.

Obviously, for some of us, parking nearby is essential, as even short journeys on foot are impossible. But I do wonder; if our neighbourhoods were designed differently, would we see more octogenarians cycling regularly, as the Dutch and Danish communities do? Wheels for Wellbeing, our local inclusive cycling charity, has long called for infrastructure that would let users of adapted cycles get around as safely and easily as those on two wheels.

Granted, we don't all wish to cycle, wherever we go however, we should all feel we can do so, if we so wish. This isn't the case as present, which is perhaps why removing parking spaces from our homes seems to many a ridiculous thing to do.

Ralph Buehler, an urban affairs and planning academic, recently gave a presentation to the London Cycling Campaign's policy forum. He presented research he'd conducted in cities that had had great success in affecting large modal shift away from the car, to walking and cycling.  Buehler's work revealed his interviewees had two common points of agreement in how this shift had been produced; make parking more harder and invest in public transport.

So if are going to become a city in which we walk and cycle more than we drive, perhaps we will have to make some tough decisions. And perhaps moving our cars away from the front of our homes is the first step to doing this.

Photo copyright the RHS: Greening Grey Britain

RHS front Garden Guide available here.