Viewpoints: Council v Resident v Public
There are lots of unwritten social rules that govern this space that is our urban commons. Being aware of these will save you lots of grief. But could this also be an opportunity?
Councils see verges as public land used by many different people and services. They are familiar with the many uses and users of the space and have rules to try to balance competing priorities and risks in a manageable way. Residents mowing the verges keep the city maintenance costs and your rates down.
Verges are the places for street trees. Councils are under pressure to increase street tree canopy to create shade and reduce increasing urban heat. As well as planting the trees, they often have to spend a lot of time trying to convince residents to have a tree in front of their house.
Residents view verges in a variety of ways - often depending on context and sometimes contradictory.
This is where many unwritten social rules come onto play and when someone is upset by another person's verge garden they complain to the Council which is then obliged to act and enforce their current policy.
Pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists, all have their different views about verges even in streets and suburbs far from home.
How many of these attitudes do you recognise?
If I have to mow it, I should be allowed to do whatever I want
It's ok for me and my friends and visitors to park our cars on our verge but not ok for other people with no connection to us
I can park my car, caravan, or boat on my verge - but nobody else can
My verge garden is an extension of my own garden and I should be able to plant what I want.
Ignore Councils. Ask for forgiveness not permission if you want to plant
How dare your dog or child do that on my verge!
Who are those suspicious people walking down our street?
Your messy verge is lowering the tone of the neighbourhood
My neatly trimmed lawn is setting a good standard for others to follow
That householder is a lawn fanatic and you daren't so much as step on their verge
Perhaps it is a very brave Council that allows verge gardening to be added to this minefield of community attitudes, and why the resulting policies can seem overly bureaucratic.
Things to do:
Find your Council policy.
Listen to comments people make about this shared public space especially contentious issues like parking cars or boats or caravans on the verge.
Start looking at how, and if, many verge gardens comply with the policy when you walk around your neighbourhood. Are there things that you object to others doing on your verge or in front of your home? Why?
If we can learn to understand and negotiate these differences in this small place, could we use the same knowledge and skills elsewhere?
This free article is part of the Understanding the Space section: bite-sized introductions to gardening in these small but wonderfully complex spaces.