There are myriad reasons why it is a bad idea to turn front gardens into drives, believes Rob Cowan
Front gardens help to make towns and cities worth living in. They can make walking a pleasure, promote sociability, contribute to biodiversity, reduce the danger of flooding and make streets safer. But too many are neglected, contributing nothing to the quality of the place. Every year thousands of front gardens are paved over.
Front gardens have more impact on the face of residential areas within our towns and cities than any other element of the streetscape. Their qualities are being eroded at an unprecedented rate.
Walking is rarely pleasant where gardens have been turned into private parking lots. It is unsafe for children if cars are reversing over the pavement into the street. The lack of safety encourages parents to drive their children to school rather than to walk. That increases the amount of traffic and the danger to the few children who still walk.
Planted front gardens absorb rainfall instead of making it run off into drains, as imperviously paved parking-lot front gardens do. Porous surfaces reduce the risk of flooding and replenish the groundwater that we depend on for water supplies. As well as being good for biodiversity, generous planting with the right shrubs and plants can help to improve the climate and air quality, and reduce the harsh visual impact of the motor car.
The front of the house and the pavement are traditionally places where neighbours greet each other. The front garden is publicly visible private space. The pavement is public space while the front garden wall divides the private space from the public space. Destroying the front hedge, fence or wall and turning the front garden into a parking lot reduces the street’s sociability and the sense of neighbourliness.
Parking on front gardens, with the consequent need for crossovers and dropped kerbs, privatises parking, reducing the amount and flexibility of parking space that is publicly available in the street.
Converting front gardens to parking spaces uglifies streets, reducing their value in the long term. Where one parking lot front garden is unattractive, the combined effect of a number of bare frontages emphasises all the disadvantages.
Rob Cowan is at Urban Design Skills, He will be speaking at Transforming London’s Streets.
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