There was a time that front gardens were a statement, before the explosion of off road parking, block paved drives and people who complained that their street floods each time it rains. Turn back the clock thirty years and the suburban front garden was still a statement but something has gone wrong in the last three decades. We have fallen out of love with our front gardens, we have fallen out of love of making a statement to our neighbours and we have fallen out of love with our community. There is a chance for change though. Last year the Department for Transport revealed that we are falling out of love with the car, and the reason? Cost.
Since 2007, teenagers that opt to take the UK practical driving test has declined by a whopping 18%. This is down to the cost of motoring, and mainly the cost of insurance. You'd think that these 17-19 year olds would wait a few years, get a job, get some sort of security to pay for driving lessons but again there has been a decline of 10%. During 2012-13, those taking a driving test declined by 5.3%. These statistics do not take into account the pass rate, which since 2007 has risen to 50.7% but the actual number of people passing in 2013/14 plummeted to 358, 143. Statistically it's unknown how many young drivers go on to own a car but it is believed only 1 out of 3 do so, the remaining 2 becoming second drivers on their parents vehicles. Now, the decline of the car is on the cards, economically, environmentally and more importantly, statistically. Many people hold UK driving licenses but not all of them drive. The car may become as antiquated as the front garden but when the car goes, there will be no resurrection for it.
There are several reasons for this, the most important one is how as a nation we have embraced urban living. This has created vast commuter belts, these can be seen around Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff, Huddersfield, Newcastle and London. You can actually track how money is spent during the working week and how places like Hebden Bridge have economically become part of Huddersfield and Leeds. They have, though largely semi-rural, become part of a mega city that stretches from Leeds to Liverpool. We see this in the flow of money each day, during the day (especially at breakfast and lunch) spending in urban areas spikes but come the evening, and the quota of spending per head is considerably more in the towns and villages surrounding these cities, and the main cost driving this spike in small towns and villages is commuting, rent, mortgages and shopping (including food). We have all driven into cities and paled at the cost of parking. It is one of the biggest bug bears in motoring, after pot holes, 4x4 drivers and Jeremy Clarkson. The car is dead, not because we don't love it (many of us do), but because it costs too much and hybrid technology may stem the tide for awhile but in the end the car will leave us.
So, why spend so long dribbling out statistics about cars? If you live in UK suburbia, just step outside and take a look at how many front gardens have been changed to off road parking. We suspect a good 70% maybe even more, certainly this was the case in one commuter town we lived in. Now, that 18% decline in driving has to come off that 70%. We'll do the math for you, it's 12.6%. So, in a few years time there's just going to be around 56% of drives around you and that's a conservative estimate. The trend may be that the decline in driving will fall by over 5% each year. That means in less than a decade, off road parking will be something that looks odd in suburbia, a passing fashion - as it was when it started in the 1980s. There's a reason why it started back in that Wham infested decade, it wasn't leg warmers or Banarama, it wasn't Kim Wilde, it wasn't Margaret Thatcher. Oh hang on, it was. The right to buy changed an entire generation. House prices soared and the result is, we now have generations of kids who cannot afford to buy a house. Landlords only put in what they think is needed, and off road parking will not be at the top of their list if the tenant does not drive. From every side, the car is dying but something is rippling out of the cities to replace it.
Green space has become a priority for such cities as London and Manchester. The urban garden is being born from giant open city parks, to green bridges to funnel workers into the square mile. There is a greening of our cities, unlike anything seen since before the industrial revolution. Sheffield is one of the cities leading the way, creating an arboretum in the heart of the city with over 100 trees overlooking the train station. This is a major statement, and it doesn't take a genius to understand what they're saying, the future is greening up our cities, our suburbs, our countryside and it will nestle in the palm of public transport. This isn't wishful thinking, it's simple economics. People like green spaces, they are more productive in them and they actually spend more money in them. Cars though create stress in cities, for the driver and the pedestrian. City planners are slowly pushing them further and further out, the rise of ring roads, the rise of park and ride reflect this, and all of it is being sold to the driver through cost.
The death of the car will have some strange side effects, cities are starting to reflect this as they become more and more car unfriendly. The rise of the bicycle is no passing fashion. The car may hang on but frankly, as many say, if you live in a city you don't need one. The petrol/diesel motor vehicle will have it's last tyre hold in rural communities after that, who knows what will happen? What will certainly occur is the rise of the front garden again, the greening of suburbia from food projects to community gardens is on the rise and this is a global fashion. Remember cars are a fashion, they have been sold to us as a fashion statement and gardens are being sold to us in exactly the same way. The future will be the greening of our spaces for no one wants to look at block paving, that's why we park cars on it.
There is also another startling reason that off road parking will vanish too but we'll talk about that on Monday.