Parking to Paradise: Depave Portland in Action

Asphalt – why do we love you so?  From mega-parking lots, to medians, to that little foot wide space between the road and the sidewalk -- the black stuff has oozed all over our urban spaces. In some spaces it has a purpose. But its uninterrupted reign also leads to serious problems. The dark impermeable surface is behind both the urban heat island effect and floods of storm water that overwhelm old sewers and pump waste into waterways (or, if you are unlucky, your basement). Some cities are pioneering ways to breakup the tar-scape. But I'd also heard rumours of a community based group in Portland that was taking things into their own hands.

Earlier this month I got to see Depave Portland in action and I put together this short video of a project to they were running at a local school. Starting early one Saturday volunteers started prying loose pre-cut squares of asphalt and carting them off. By the end of the day a few hundred square feet were open and ready for the gardens, play, and educational spaces the school had planned.

If you think you'd like to try something similar, Depave has put together a 9 page guide (pdf). In this case, it was the New Day School that started the ball rolling. The school took care of getting the permits to remove the asphalt and developing a plan for the space. Depave raised funds to cover costs and coordinated volunteers. A week before the event a dozen or so Depave volunteers spent a day with concrete saws cutting the asphalt into about 2 ft x 2 ft sections (affectionately known as “brownies”) that you see being removed in the video.

What caught me was how much fun it was. It may not be the quickest way to remodel a site, but there is something amazingly satisfying about getting together, making new friends and transforming the landscape. Now every time I pass an unused and unnecessary bit of asphalt, I can't help asking myself “what else could we do with that spot?” ...


2 Responses to "Parking to Paradise: Depave Portland in Action"

Jules said... 29 June 2010 at 16:09

Good work!
Nice blog, I will keep an eye on it for updates.
Next time you come to Madrid, reserve some hours of your schedule to get a bike and we will show you the green areas.
See you

Alex Aylett said... 30 June 2010 at 00:56

Gracias Julio,
a green tour of Madrid sometime would be great.
Hasta Luego!


This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

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