Sustainability | Water | Ecotrope

In Portland: De-Paving The Playground

Ecotrope | June 26, 2012 10 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:31 p.m.

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Early this year, I wrote about the Portland nonprofit Depave, which has been rolling back impervious surfaces across the city since 2007.

Its projects are designed to reduce the volume of polluted stormwater runoff that enters the city’s waterways, lot by lot. By taking out pavement and replacing it with plants, the projects also help reduce the urban “heat island effect,” and create new space for low-income communities to grow fruits and vegetables.

A dirty little secret about water pollution is that a lot of it comes from our everyday activities – not the big industrial plants – and simply runs off the pavement, down the sewer grate and into local rivers. As cities continue to grow and people pave over more green space, water pollution from stormwater has grown, as well. And the Clean Water Act can only do so much to prevent it.

Over the past four years, hundreds of Depave volunteers have removed more than 89,000 square feet of pavement. This weekend, the group added another 4,000 square feet of depavement to the total by ripping out sections of the playground blacktop at James John Elementary School. It’s a unique example of how everyday people can increase “green infrastructure” and stop stormwater pollution before it goes down the sewer grate.

Principal Beth Shelby said the plan is to have students get involved in planting rain gardens or bioswales in the newly exposed soil and then using the space for teaching purposes.

“We’d love to take out more pavement,” she said. “It’s not the best surface for kids to play on.”

I went out to the depaving event Saturday and collected some pictures and sound. It was clearly a dirty, loud and sweaty process. Yet everyone I talked with was smiling.

In the slideshow above, you’ll hear the voice of Depave founding board member Arif Khan.

I also talked with Depave volunteer site coordinator Corbin Gentzler and Rachel Hill, a landscape architect for the engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff. They were both first-time de-pavers. Here’s what they said about the experience:

Much thanks to Natalie Owen of Parsons Brinckerhoff for providing many of the photos in the slideshow above.

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