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Front Garden Revival

As COVID-19 restrictions ease and we are allowed to meet up to six people from different households outdoors in both public and private outdoor spaces, front gardens, front steps and garden walls have become a new place to hang out and spend time with neighbours, friends and family.

Earlier in the year, I was watching with interest the Architect@Work London 2021 Digital Summit and in particular the session on ‘The Great Outdoors’. There was a rich and exciting discussion about how we have all started to appreciate our outdoor space more during the pandemic, and its always great to hear how people have adapted to create spaces that allow them to be outside and socialise in a new, socially distant and safe way.

One thing that stuck with me was a comment from, Nick Searle of Argent, about the importance of front gardens in developments to increase a sense of community. This notion has always been important to our practice, particularly when designing communal amenity spaces for larger developments.

In new developments or in communal buildings (blocks of flats) these “front garden” spaces may look different but are equally, if not, more important. When designing these spaces, it is so important to be aware of creating sociable space. Lowering those boundaries, providing spaces to sit, play and watch city life go by, and most importantly creating a sense of pride and ownership of space amongst residents. And where there aren't dedicated communal amenity spaces, people often find ways to create them. For example, a friend of mine told me how the car park in their block of flats acted as a front garden during the pandemic – neighbours would catch up there while loading and unloading cars, residents would do little yard sales and children would use the outdoor space to play.

Illustrative view of New Town Landscape, by Andrew Cadey

For our New Town Landscape project we created outdoor amenity spaces in different zones to accommodate a variety of users and activities:

· Community Zones: Encourage interaction between residents and harbour a sense of community.

· Social Zones: Provide sociable spaces including ‘dining rooms’ and bar seating where residents can take in the spectacular views. The spaces are adaptable to allow for different group sizes.

· Active Zones: Provide dedicated, yet flexible, spaces for residents of all ages to get active and improve their mental and physical wellbeing.

· Tranquil Zones: Create a calm and relaxing feel through varied planting and views over the public realm adjacent.

Illustrative view of New Town Landscape, by Andrew Cadey

Using front gardens to create a sense of community is also something I aim to do at home. When we moved into our current home, the front garden was shrouded with 10ft high laurel trees, creating an impenetrable screen between the house and the local neighbourhood. It was the only thing we hated about the house and it was a labour of love to painstakingly dig them out. Once the trees were removed, we realised that our new front garden was bigger than our old back garden and it allowed us to transform it into a decent-sized vegetable plot.

The Campbell front garden © Penny Wincer

We often spend whole afternoons tending to our vegetable patch and it’s a great opportunity to engage with the neighbourhood and chat to people as they pass by. The beauty of the front garden is that if you allow it to be, it can become semi-public – and by spending time in it, you become more open to social engagement with the local community.

Front garden vegetable patch © Penny Wincer

A fellow front garden vegetable grower once mentioned to me that she often sits in the front garden when she wants some social engagement – it’s only ever a short while before one of her neighbours passes by and has a quick chat. This community spirit has been ever more important during lockdown, where loneliness and isolation increased significantly.

During lockdown front gardens created an opportunity for socially distant doorstep chats, morning coffees and evening drinks – making the most of a part of the home that is often overlooked. Even the smallest front gardens can have a window box or a hanging basket to bring them to life. And just having enough space for a small bench or chair to sit and have a cup of tea can make all the difference – getting out on our lunch break or after work for some fresh air and vitamin D. There has also been a rise is gardening and growing your own food in front gardens during lockdown which has done wonders for mental health during such an unsettling and stressful time.

As part of our new landscape strategy project in the Harringay Warehouse District we are looking at novel ways to incorporate communal amenity spaces in an area of high density that lacks designated outdoor space, such as by taking over parking spaces and creating ‘parklets’ with seating and sensory planting. We also aim to create spaces that encourage community gardening and growing. Watch this space for updates on this very exciting project...

Going forward in a post-COVID era, front gardens and communal amenity space will be ever more important and we plan to make the most of the opportunity to create innovative and engaging spaces for people to sit, play and socialise outdoors.

Existing communal outdoor space in the Harringay Warehouse District


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