Photo courtesy of DepaveHave you ever gotten so sick of the sight of asphalt that you just wanted to take a sledgehammer to it and start smashing?
Meet Depave, the Portland, Ore., group that lives the dream.
Since 2007, this all-volunteer squad of pavement-bashers has ripped the asphalt and concrete from 14 sites in the Portland area, making way for community gardens, sustainable schoolyards, and green space.
They’ve torn up unused parking lots, obliterated cracked ballfields where no one has hit a ball for years, and given tens of thousands of square feet of dirt a chance to breathe.
They don’t do this without permission, of course. According to Maren Murphy, Depave’s outreach coordinator, bashing the blacktop is the easy part, even if it might leave volunteers a little sore the next day.
Community groups interested in depaving a site contact the organization with their vision for what Murphy refers to as a “pavement-plagued” location. Once a project is selected, Depave members help with a post-pavement plan, fundraising, and permitting. The preparation can take up to six months.
Then it’s time for the fun part.
“People love busting up concrete and asphalt,” said Murphy. “You start with an impervious surface and end with exposed dirt. It’s dramatic and empowering.”
According to Murphy, Portland’s city government has been supportive since the start. Mayor Sam Adams has come to check out the action, and Commissioner Nick Fish has put on work gloves and thrown some muscle into the job.
Interest has grown steadily since the first summer, and Murphy said the group is looking at creating a paid staff position to handle the workload. They’ve also gotten a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to focus on environmental justice — identifying projects in parts of town with too much tar and not enough public green space.
That means more people in Portland’s most underserved neighborhoods will get the chance to roll up their sleeves, pick up their prybars, and uncover the treasure beneath the blacktop.
Get Off Your Ass Alert: Want to head down to your local vacant lot and start tearing things up? Hold on a second, you don’t want to end up in a squad car. While Depave doesn’t do any projects outside Portland, they have put together a terrific guide to the process that could help you get your own asphalt-kicking projects in gear.
Get Grist in your inbox