While some residents are choosing to transform the grass verges in front of their homes into gardens, doing so relies on individual residents having the time, knowledge, and inclination to be volunteer gardeners in this public space.
The aim of our Nature Strips project is extend this individual transformation from the realm of gardening enthusiasts, and develop the systems and changes needed for widespread transformation of this under-utilised public land into the nature strips of shady, walkable communities.
This will help address multiple pressing social and environmental problems.
The Problems & Solutions
Our cities are getting hotter. Lining our streets with the right street trees, underplanted with low-growing native plants, will cool our cities and suburbs, increasing walkability of streets.
Development is destroying habitat. Using native planting will increase habitat for wildlife and pollinators, and create corridors connecting larger areas of greenspace. Building familiarity and knowledge of native plants could also encourage residents to expand this habitat within their gardens.
With social and industrial changes, and automation of many jobs, more and more people are finding employment out of reach. They are sent on training courses that lead nowhere and forced to apply for non-existent jobs.
Standard mowing services are provided by social enterprises and micro-businesses – creating low-skilled jobs that are hard physical work done within strict time timetables to minimise prices to customers in a competitive industry. Workers are predominantly male, young and fit.
The proposed nature strip style of gardening is more flexible and provides opportunities for further education and training, especially to people who have disengaged from formal schooling. Projects can be run by social enterprises who provide additional flexibility and support to their workers as needed.
Local projects would create meaningful jobs close to home, removing common hurdles like transport difficulties and excessive commuter time.
Health & Wellbeing
Our modern lifestyle, travelling everywhere by car, disconnected from neighbours, disconnected from nature, is damaging to our physical and mental health. Many residents, especially women, don't use existing greenspace because of safety concerns in using local parks.
Shaded, walkable streets encourage active transport – walking, cycling, etc -while going about everyday activities. This provides significant health benefits to the entire community. Residents are more likely to meet and talk with neighbours and use local businesses.
Connection to nature, particularly trees and gardens right at their front gate, is now accepted to have significant mental health benefits for both workers and residents.
Having many citizens and councils with differing opinions and concerns about the responsibility for maintenance has limited the spread of resident-created verge gardens. However, I believe that the involvement of multiple stakeholders can overcome these concerns if managed within a well designed system.
The economic cost of increasing urban greenspace, of addressing unemployment and disadvantage, and of dealing with health issues resulting from current lifestyles are daunting when viewed within silos of responsibilities and organisations. However, by using one solution to address diverse issues for different stakeholders both reduces the costs and increases the options for funding.
Often we know what we need to do to address the individual problems but can't work out how to make it happen. The aim of The Shady Lanes Nature Strips Project is to bring together the many stakeholders and provide the communication tools and networking needed to enable knowledge and experiences to be shared and create a flexible and sustainable way forward. Together, we can make it happen.