IN PRAISE OF SUBURBIA

If you’re a regular follower, thank you – and I’m sorry I was silent last week.  I was uncomfortable and lethargic after a minor operation.  A bit more more of that still to come, but nothing too serious – so please keep looking for me and forgive occasional absences.

It was good to see news of a joint government-industry initiative to boost house building.  Much needed.  Current output is no more than 100,000 units a year, while the need is for more than twice that figure.  A survey by the Halifax Bank suggests that 64% of 20 to 45 year olds believe they will never own their own home.  This encourages some commentators to opine that we in the UK put too much emphasis on home-ownership. After all, they say, Germany is a prosperous country, but there only 46% of dwellings are owner-occupied – compared with 71% in the UK.  It seems to me that every country has a distinct national character, and  that home ownership has worked well for the UK in all sorts of ways.

One expression of Britain’s national character, I would argue, is the private household garden.  I was glad last week to be able to get some fresh air and gentle exercise without having to leave my home.  My (not very large) garden also makes a small contribution to biodiversity, attracting  birds, bees and the occasional small mammal – and I even grow a few things to eat.  Rented homes may also have gardens, but owner-occupied homes with reasonably well-tended gardens are the defining characteristic of British suburbia.  We have more than 20 million such gardens totalling (it has been suggested) about a million acres of cultivated land.

Public gardens are important too, and we have the Victorians to thank for most of them.  It’s good to see a few more being created today.  I hope later this year to see something of the High Line, the public garden that is being created in New York, some 10 metres above street level on the bed of a former elevated railway. Meanwhile I shall enjoy my own bit of green space – and continue to hope that we can manage our planning processes and the housing market in a way that will make that enjoyment a realistic possibility for future generations.

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