Before I start I should point out that, while I agree with the writer, the words at the end of this post are not my words but those of London Parklet Campaign on Twitter, whose Twitter thread, posted this week, I'm reproducing below.
The thread certainly struck a chord with some of us whose own extremely modest efforts to green the streets, at no cost to the council, were met with an immovable barrier of council intransigence, unbelievable hurdles to jump over (which we did our best to do) and, indeed, downright hostility from elected councillors (to be clear, not any of the current Harringay councillors) and council officials who seemed outraged that we had taken it upon ourselves to make changes.
In other major cities, procedures have been put in place to help residents to take ownership, for example in Paris, but in London (and, as will be clear when you read below, not just Haringey) there is no will to make change and, in many cases, the level of reaction to a few planters around trees or some guerrilla gardening is out of all proportion.
The London Mayor did consult about four years ago on London's environmental strategy and reports were written (of course!). The article about Paris I linked to above summarises the findings relating to street greening thus:
"According to this report, councillors should learn to take a ‘backseat’ in local projects in order to encourage community collaboration and build trust in local government because ‘At a time when trust in public institutions is at a low ebb, councils have a vital role to play in restating and rebuilding the social contract between citizens and their governments.’
This report means that councillors must be prepared to step back from local projects and offer advice and support (my emphasis) rather than strong leadership.
One example the report identifies is in Kent: the project is resident-led, but Cllr Vince Maple of Medway Council used his position within the council to provide the group with the confidence, resources and knowledge (my emphasis) they needed to get started. The group built parks; and residents, who were sceptical at first, volunteered to maintain it because ‘they felt ownership of the space in a way that they may not have if it had been a council-run space."
We are a VERY long way from that ideal, I would suggest.
However, the following words sum up the issues very well and asks some important questions about the way forward:
"Who owns our streets? Our neighbourhoods? Who has the right to make changes? To plant trees? Chop down trees? Add parking? Add green space? And...who should have that right?
Over the past decades residents and communities have slowly lost control of the neighbourhoods they live in. We see it in big decisions - that development locals didn’t want - and we see it in the small ones - that patch of ground that could be so much more, yet sits empty.
Our campaign passionately believes in access to green space for all Londoners. We believe in the positive impact green space has for mental health, for pollution, and for our climate. But most of all, we believe in communities taking back control of the streets they live on
So what does that mean in practice? Let’s talk about Mayton Street, Holloway - in the borough of Islington. One of London’s most progressive boroughs with ambitious targets to go carbon neutral. Yet when locals put a few plants out to create some green space, it didn’t go well
The Council came in hard. Breaches of the Highways Act. A need for expensive liability insurance (for up to £10m!). Discussions were had. Sense has prevailed. But the annual cost to residents? £676
To put that £676 in perspective, if they’d have put an average family car in that spot, the permit would have cost £150-200 (and a zero emissions car like that zero emissions park? £0!). Now those costs quite aren’t like for like, but you see the point here.
If a street wants to create a community space with some green space - something positive for the area - it’ll cost them more than if they just parked a car in that very space all year without moving it with no benefit to anyone
Two things are deeply wrong here. 1) We are penalising people doing positive things. 2) We’ve taken away control from local people for their street. If locals people want to put a bench and some plants in an underused parking space, what’s wrong with that?
It gets worse. Why didn’t they do it in a legal all official way to avoid this mess? Because there isn’t one. There’s a process and a system to park a car on your street. To plant a tree or a bench? Nothing. There is no official London process to make your neighbourhood better
This can’t be right. We need a city wide, standard way of doing this. If the residents of Romford or Richmond or Rayners Lane want to plant a tree, a bench, make a parklet - they should be able to and boroughs should support them for doing something positive
So this is what we’re campaigning for. Yes to parklets. Yes to trees. Yes to green space. But yes to so much more. Reclaiming our streets for our communities, for good
Want to join us? Keen to help build a better, greener, more community centred future? Get in touch. It’s never too late to change a little bit of the world."
Amen to that.
The idea of parklets is to take convert car parking space into a space for community use and installing such things as seating or vegetation. Hackney is doing a lot of it. Haringey are committed to it and I believe a parklet is being installed in Noel Park. It's a shame if the bureaucracy makes it difficult but it's worth trying.
I wholeheartedly agree. It is ALWAYs worth trying.
I was actively involved in "trying" for several years in my neck of the woods.
Brexshit ( I am a "bloody European foreigner and immigrant"), council politics and bureaucracy combined to kind of break my spirit.
Others have taken over now.
I hear you JJ B.
After the last debacle over some flowers in a wooden box, I gave up trying to do things directly with the council. They don't really "get" why they could work with us to make things happen. There used to be a buzzword "co-production" but it was never more than a buzzword. In other cities they recognise that residents are part of the process (Paris, Vancouver) but in London we just get in the way of their grand schemes.
One way to do small scale stuff has been to involve charities e.g. CleanupUk who do the liaison and confidence building that the councillors can't seem to provide but it's not ideal. After all, if you want to plant a few daffs under a tree, it shouldn't need a team of people to get it done. Things used to be easier when we had neighbourhood managers. Ours, Dasos, did a lot of work with residents and was approachable but after their abolition it's now almost impossible to speak to anyone about small scale initiatives.
I don't think we can discount the fear councils have of insurance companies and compensation claims. One of the big asks for our boxes was that we'd need incredible amounts of liability insurance. Trees are routinely cut down with no questions asked because of insurance claims that are rarely contested. However, clear procedures, licensing and regular reviews of resident led projects (in Paris you renew every three years) would make a lot of that fear redundant.