The English are paving over their front yards?


My, this IS depressing – the news that Londoners are paving over their gardens for parking spaces. And if the ENGLISH don’t give a fig for growing plants, who does?  Simon Burch reports in the Financial Times a 30 percent loss of green space in London as a result.

Pave-overs have been in the news in my part of the world, too.  A town in Northern Virginia passed a law prohibiting them, in response to the trend among immigrants living as large families with lots of cars.  So of course it’s politically charged, but there’s no disagreement that paver-overs result in increased run-off and the likelihood of flooding. 

But back to Simon Burch’s article.  He goes to tell us the history of the front yard and make it quite interesting. 

Then my favorite part is when he says that my town offers "daring inspiration" and "ostentatious challenges to the normally sedate British front. "  Hey, that sounds like fun.  Brings back nice memories of tooling around Richmond, Virginia in full hippie regalia in the late ‘6o.

Okay, here’s the article.


  1. As you may notice from the little picture accompanying the newspaper article, thousands of miles British city housing consists of terrace houses (row houses) with tiny front yards, or semi-detached houses with slightly larger yards quite unlike the more spacious front lots of most North American houses. In addition roads tend to be narrower so that with parking on both sides there is barely room for one lane of traffic. Most of these British yards would hardly have room to park a Mini-minor, let alone anything larger.
    Going back to Britain from Canada I am always overwhelmed by the density and small-size of British housing. Frankly most of the front gardens I saw are rather sad compounds for a few straggly roses, a bit like factory hens.
    There are exceptions, and back gardens may be whole different matter.
    The major culprit for the turning of front yards into parking spaces is the desire to own individual transport, heavily promoted by the car industry – the great American ideal transported to an overpopulated little island with an old housing stock. These towns were built for walking.

  2. And this, at the same time that we are increasing our numbers of green roofs, to improve stormwater runoff. I’m surprised the English haven’t already focussed on how even a small yard can increase water infiltration. But maybe their sewage systems aren’t like ours here in Pittsburgh?

  3. There is more than one way to aesthetically and functionally address the ‘pave over’ dilemma.

    By incorporating thoughtful design and BMP : BEST Management Practices , you can even help keep our rivers , bays and oceans clean by keeping oily driveway runoff surface water from flowing into the stream beds and culverts , which lead to our water sources.

    Here in California we have a very active Storm Water Management District(s).
    They offer great continuing education classes to professional landscapers and homeowners alike.

    I know everyone appreciates a smaller government, but this is one agency that is addressing the paving over issue in a positive, sustainable and environmentally conscience way.

    The last several years, when ever we submit a master plan for design review and permit application, our driveway design work is always reviewed ( and installed ) with an eye toward BMP.

    Yes, Vanessa, you can have your pavement and have it be environmentally positive too.

  4. Another downside: more solid surfacing and reduced greenery is going to make the city hotter. Chicago is one city that is active on the green roof front in an effort to reduce summertime temperatures, which will reduce air conditioning costs and energy consumption. As Michelle and Nancy point out, there are other options. Let’s hope the Bring Fronts Back (gotta love that name) movement gains ground – literally.

    Susan, do we get to see pics of your hippy youth?

  5. It’s worse than that in parts of Britain – estimates say that half of front gardens in the North East have been paved over.
    One of the big concerns is all the water runoff – it seems all these non-porous surfaces can increase the risk of flooding and poor drainage.
    There’s more in my blog post on this subject at where I argue that we should be looking at living and productive front garden areas rather than just going for concrete low-maintenance solutions.

  6. Ask and I shall receive! Thanks, Susan, you looked quite the chic hippy (would love to have seen you in the bedoin robe.). You had better taste than I did, I think, considering what I wore in the ’70’s (I’m a decade behind you)…what was I thinking?!

  7. I’m experiencing the pavement creep on my own block – one front yard after another is being entirely paved over for extra parking spaces – this is in addition to the 2-3 spaces per house alrady in existance. We are a circa 1935 block and have immediate access to easy public transit – why the need for more spaces all of sudden? Many blame it on the high cost of housing forcing families to double-and-triple up in one home. That means 8-10 adults in a house built for 2-3. Unless local policy makers start passing green space regulations the problem will only proliferate.

  8. We had a local blowup on this topic back in November. A local real estate diva, writing in her weekly column, advised a reader to “get a dump truck over there fast” and pave over the front yard. Area bloggers slammed her in response.

Comments are closed.