Several conversations over the past few weeks have got me thinking about car parking and verge gardens.
Space for car parking is one of those topics that can quickly turn a discussion about verge gardening into an argument on social media and a neighbourhood dispute on the ground.
But it's not as simple a topic as it first appears. I think the differences in viewpoints is shaped by the different ways people view the streets, different values, and different priorities.
Public land will always be a contested space and we need to work hard at finding ways to understand and manage that to avoid the classic "tragedy of the commons" and find positive solutions, and even collaborations, to make it better for all.
If we can learn to collaborate on our local street commons, maybe we can do the same on our "global commons."
So, what's the problem?
The rules aren't always clear
Generally, parking on verges is illegal in Australia. That includes parking on driveways with all or part of your car outside your property line. It is state law, enforced by local government and occasionally by police. Often, it is not enforced until there is a complaint.
In Western Australia, some councils choose to override state law to allow residents to park on the verges in front of their own houses, although the state road traffic code still forbids them from parking where they block pedestrian access.
How a council can know whether the vehicle belongs to the resident is unknown but presumably enforcement is initiated by a complaint from that resident who knows who they want parking in that space.
Meanwhile in Queensland, there was a question of those wide verges in older suburbs where there is grass, then a kerb with gutter, then a wide unpaved area with grass and street trees between the kerb and the road.
The Queensland state law says you must not "Park or stop on a bicycle path, footpath, shared path, dividing strip, nature strip, or painted island, unless signs tell you otherwise." Would you class this grassed area with trees a nature strip?
And then there are the unwritten rules
People see these spaces very differently and definitions often depend on their focus.
I've heard footpaths defined as only being the concrete pavements as in "our council only builds footpaths on one side of the street" being justification for blocking pedestrian access and claiming the verge space for car parking on the other side.
Street trees are seen by some of us as vital to tackling urban heat, providing shade for pedestrians, and a vital part of habitat and biodiversity. But not everyone shares our priorities.
Some verge gardeners complain that the street trees stop them growing the verge plants they want - especially flowers and food plants. The building up of soil and mulch in the root zone was a major sticking point in the City of Port Phillip dispute between the arborists concerned about the long-term health of their street trees and the gardeners who want to plant garden beds for community and pollinators.
Many drivers see the entire space between the property line and road as potential car parking and are unaware of the damage caused to the roots by compression of the soil. Or maybe their need or desire for car parking is just greater than their concern for the trees or pedestrians.
Many drivers see grass as an invitation to park, and verge gardens can be a way to discourage this.
How do we address these differences?
The Shady Lanes basic course is designed to take you through the journey exploring the complex and contested nature of this space and build an understanding needed to avoid getting into painful disputes and unproductive stalemates.
The course is free to all website members. Membership keeps it a safe and controlled space for discussions (no spammers).
An added bonus of membership is that you can post listings to promote your gardens, organisation, services, or research in the public directory.