During the past few weeks I’ve spent time delivering election leaflets, and I have more to do in the coming few weeks. (You may have noticed, there’s an election coming).
Delivering leaflets, I’ve seen my neighbourhood differently. More slowly, certainly. I’ve walked up and down streets I’d barely noticed before, seeing each house in turn, looking at the front gardens, the houses, and the surroundings.
I’ve thought a lot about our urban surroundings over the years, and earlier this year I was fortunate enough to attend an exhibition and collection of presentations about using landscape as a means of tackling poverty. It was a fascinating and inspiring evening, not least of all because it enabled me to meet one of my food and landscape heroes – Pam Warhurst of Incredible Edible Todmorden.
It was inspiring as well because I was able to see that in some places, now, these ideas are positively received and part of the accepted way forward. I remembered when 20 or so years ago, when my sons were at the local primary school, I approached the headteacher with a fully costed proposal to plant the (unused) front lawn as an apple orchard. He flatly refused even to discuss it (“the children might throw fruit at each other”); I lacked the time or the energy to persist; and the spacious front lawn still remains bare grass which is never used.
So as I walked to my delivery streets, and up and down the paths to the letter boxes, I was looking and thinking about how different our surroundings could be if we just used the spaces we have more creatively, more imaginatively, and more thoughtfully.
Why are so many public spaces so bare and uninviting?
This is a large, empty grass square enclosed by housing on a lovely post-war estate in south Bath. It has two paths at right angles across it, crossing in the middle. It is replicated in several similar estates across south Bath.
It has a fabulous view across Bath. It has no people (on all the occasions I have walked across it, I’ve never seen anyone else there). It has no benches, so nowhere for anyone to sit. It has no play equipment. It has no fruit trees. It has no communal herb garden. It has no birds (where would they be?).
It has does have a waste bin (see that black speck in the picture above?).
And it has four (oh so polite) signs, one at each of the entrances). So now we know:
It’s a pointless, wasted monoculture of an opportunity.
So you can imagine how glad I was when at last I came across the two small front gardens below towards the end of my walk, and just drank them in.
Sigh, and breathe.
It could all be so different.