News reports this week have described the “tidal wave of grey” that is sweeping the nation after research by the RHS found that three times as many front gardens are now concreted over compared to ten years ago. One in four UK front gardens are now completely paved over and nearly one in three front gardens have no plants.
The main reason behind the concrete tsunami is, of course, the lack of parking. We are a tiny, congested island, and we need somewhere to park the 38 million vehicles that are licenced to drive on our roads; paving our front gardens to enable off-street parking is the obvious solution. But to pave a front garden in its entirety and not retain any greenery seems completely thoughtless. What an unimaginative lot we are! Surely a tiny flower bed can be squeezed in somewhere? Or at least one small pot of blooms?
Social historian Dr Joe Moran attributes the decline in front gardens, something we once took great pride in (as much for our neighbours’ benefit as for our own), to our diminished connections to our neighbourhoods.
“As our social networks have expanded to become more complex, we have become less concerned about how we are perceived by our neighbours,” he says, adding, “there may be a sense in which we are less concerned about keeping up with the Joneses – what the neighbours think – as we don’t know them as well.”
I wonder if that’s the case. I think as a nation, we’re still just as preoccupied with keeping up with the Joneses, but these days we’re more disconnected from the natural world, not to mention more materialistic. Today, impressing one’s neighbours is more likely to be achieved through parking a nice car out front. And let’s not forget the enviable boost in house value some off-street parking will guarantee. You’re not going to get any financial return on a bed of marigolds now are you?
The implications of this alarming trend are far-reaching, from loss of biodiversity and increased flooding risks to rising urban temperatures, and the RHS is urging the nation to reverse the trend by launching their Greening Grey Britain campaign.
I hope it works. Life in modern Britain can feel grey enough without added swathes of concrete deadening the landscape.