Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The problem of front gardens

As I was walking through East Oxford today, I was feeling a little sad about how nice the streets could be and how nasty they actually are. "Something should be done", thought I, "but what?"

We could change all the 'street furniture', as it seems to be called. Smarten up the lamposts. Sort out the signs. But, to be honest, they're not really the problem. And how exciting can a one way sign be, anyway?

The problem is that many - okay, let's be honest, the overwhelming majority - of houses have really shabby frontages with poorly kept gardens. I'm not saying that to criticise the owners. I dare say if I owned a house it would have a shabby frontage with a poorly kept garden.

The point is that this is why the state will never be able to fix local communities. We're not dealing with a public space - the public space is utilitarian but basically fine. The problem is with the collection of private spaces. Only the owners can decide to make them look pleasant, and only they can put in the effort to make it so.

I think the problem of front gardens sets limits to the influence of the state in all sorts of areas of life. I guess that's why I'm a Tory.


  1. Then there's Bournville. Parks everywhere, housing designed for the Cadbury factory workers to take pride in, with gardens front & rear, trees lining the well-kept streets... it works. People take pride in the 'village', and take care of it. Possibly the lack of pubs & off-licenses had something to do with it too, but I'm not sure. That was a private estate -style social project rather than a govt one, but not sure why it wouldn't be replicable?

  2. As it happens, the public spaces around my way are very pleasant. Nice parks etc. But they tend to feel like oases (sp? what is the plural of oasis anyway?) in a rough-ish neighbourhood.

    It can work, I'm sure. But I'm equally sure gov't can't make it work.