It is curious, is it not, that whilst Oxford’s planners seem intent on wiping out every last patch of grass within the city, those in charge of the streets seem more than happy to let grass and weeds grow in the gutters?
One can see why planners do not like grass. Planners like regularity and consistency. The ideal is that everywhere looks the same, neat and squared-off like it is on the developer’s plans. Grass is offensive because it grows unpredictably. You cannot impose a directive on it nor make it fit to a pattern. To a timid little pen-pusher in the Planning Department, grass is slightly threatening, implying that there are forces of nature beyond human power.
Besides, people are unaccountably fond of grass and will go to great lengths to defend it. There is a certain amount of fun to be had in upsetting such people by threatening to dump concrete on their precious grass, but the fun soon palls under the pressure of the work which ensues. It is jolly hard to explain to a developer that his block of flats must be held up because local people have a sentimental attachment to raggedy green stuff. They can always go out into the country – there’s plenty of grass out there.
In fact, you can find grass quite easily in central Oxford, growing in the neglected streets. See my post Oriel Square put out to grass for photographs of a once-beautiful city square now looking like the courtyard of a tenement block.
It is not just the city centre which is neglected like this. Here is a photograph of a suburban residential street whose gutters have not been weeded for a very long time.
There is a very basic point here. Cities are like people. Once they stop caring about the details – their hair, their fingernails, their shoes – people go downhill very quickly. The state of a city’s gutters tells you a lot about the people who run it – they have no pride in their city, whatever their logo may say.
There is more than a little hypocrisy here. If a resident of this neglected street were to put his rubbish out on the wrong day, or put it out in a plastic sack instead of a council bin, he would be fined for breach of the rubbish by-laws and for making a mess. Who would notice some mess here?
Just down the road, a huge development is rising. One or two of the better councillors argued that the developer should find room for a play area within the development. The weak little men of the planning department would not risk crossing the developer over this. It was argued that children could find grass on Port Meadow if they really wanted it, and a majority of the councillors seem to have agreed.
Mind you, if this street is left for much longer, it will revert to the condition of the playing field which it was before the road was laid.