In places like Australia, New Zealand and parts of the British Islands, rural roads are sometimes separated from fields by both fences and wide grass verges. Often referred to as the “long acre,” many farmers take advantage of this otherwise unused green space to feed herds and flocks, or move them along roadsides between fields or farms.
City and suburb dwellers will of course also be familiar with roadside strips of grass. In fact, there are as many names for those slim semi-public “verge” spaces (typically between streets and sidewalks) as there are everyday safety, aesthetic and ecological uses for them.
In New Zealand and some parts of the United States, they are often called berms. In parts of Canada and the Upper Midwest, they are known as boulevards. In places along the East Coast and West Coast they are sometimes referred to as curb strips. They can also be referred to as sidewalk lawns or sidewalk plots in the American South, swales in South Florida or devil strips in Northeastern Ohio.
Other alternate names include: besidewalk, grassplot, park strip, hellstrip, median, road allowance, neutral ground, tree belt, planter zone and furniture zone (since they provide space for trees and plants as well as utility poles, fire hydrants and other “street furniture”).
By whatever name, these zones can serve aesthetic functions and help improve pedestrian safety, acting as a barrier between sidewalks and traffic as well as reducing the risk of vehicular puddle spray. Verges can also house useful public amenities, like street lights and bus shelters.
They can be part of ecological landscape planning, too, managing runoff, mitigating water pollution and serving as wildlife habitats. In colder regions, they can function as repositories for plowed snow. Municipal authorities are often responsible for their maintenance, though in some places management is left to local residents.
But verges comes at a cost, too: in packed urban areas, they arguably represent underutilized space (for buildings or architecture), particularly when coupled with building setbacks. In many dense and cozy old cities, verges are entirely absent.