Pavement is the carpet of the modern world, keeping vehicle traffic moving, basketballs bouncing and footsteps tapping.
But, it comes at a cost. Pavement prevents water absorption and can pollute runoff.
Some groups are challenging cities’ overly paved landscapes with projects that reclaim needlessly paved areas. Like Depave Paradise, a Green Communities Canada project that organizes pavement transformation events.
This year it has pilot projects set for Calgary and the Ontario communities of Mississauga, Peterborough, Kingston and Ottawa.
Clara Blakelock, Green Communities Canada coordinator of water programs, explained the process.
First an area of rarely used pavement is identified. She said these are often rarely used plazas, derelict basketball courts or stagnant alleys.
“Really there is no reason for them to be paved at all,” Blakelock said.
Volunteers then break up the pavement and haul the chunks away.
The space is transformed into green space with native plants. Blakelock said that a recent project even turned their reclaimed space into a sandbox for kids.
Sharyn Inward, LEED AP director of water programs with Green Communities Canada explained that while the green spaces beautify neighborhoods, they also serve a much more practical purpose.
Having more green areas in heavily paved cities gives precipitation a place to go. The soil and grass can absorb the water. On pavement, the water runs into storm drains, picking up all sorts of toxins and chemicals along the way. The tainted water then goes back into the areas water systems.
In green spaces, the water is absorbed back into aquifers where it is filtered into drinkable water. And having the water absorbed also gives the water more places to go, preventing flooding.
“Anywhere we can reduce pavement, that is really advantageous and empowering,” Inward said.
She and Blakelock said they hope the programs begin to pick up steam in the coming years like they have in Portland, Ore. where they began roughly a decade ago. Inward said Portland has transformed more than 100,000 square feet of pavement. During the 2012-2013 depaving season, Depave Paradise removed more than 5,500 square feet in Ontario communities.
But if you must pave, Blakelock said Green Communities also encourages cities to use paving alternatives like interlocking concrete with layers of gravel or permeable pavement. These also allow precipitation to seep back down into the water cycle. She said while these may sometimes be more expensive at first, they can be easier to repair.