Get rid of over-paving for healthier communities

Posted in: Water

three people in work clothes breaking up cementWhen it comes to over-paved areas, the problem goes beyond the surface level. Over-paving actually represents a bigger problem.

Unnecessary pavement contributes to stormwater pollution, degrading water quality, and disconnects us from the natural world. This goes deeper than simple aesthetics—studies show that green spaces promote mental and physical health and reduce rates of morbidity and mortality in urban residents, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

Over-paved areas disproportionately impact people of color and low-income communities. Green spaces, on the other hand, are equalizers of socioeconomic disparities in health. As an engineer, I view it as my responsibility to work toward a built environment that promotes equality.

I recently helped organize a Stormwater Service Event for the Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association’s fall conference in Portland. Members of the Stormwater Committee joined other community volunteers to remove underused asphalt pavement from a parking lot. The project was led by Depave, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote “the transformation of over-paved places to overcome the social and environmental impacts of pavement.”

group shot in front of building behind broken up pavementRemoving unnecessary pavement allows the area to be used for more useful purposes—in this case, we made way for native plantings and a rain garden.

This project specifically was important because the site is home to Portland’s first Community Investment Trust, a Mercy Corp’s program aimed at providing local residences with a commercial investment opportunity within their community. Freeing the site from underutilized pavement in favor of a rain garden and native plantings shows us just how impactful this work can be. Supporting local businesses directly supports the people living in these communities as well.

Over-paving is a problem that represents an undercurrent of social and racial disparities in our built environment. We can’t be equal if certain populations of people are more negatively impacted by harmful environs than others. However, through projects like this working with organizations like Depave, we can come together to provide a more sustainable, equitable future. I’m excited to be a part of it.

Kari Nichols, PE

About the Author

If a raindrop falls on the project, Kari Nichols, P.E., gets involved to find a stormwater management solution. “I believe in dedication and follow-through,” she says. “Deciphering regulatory language and developing workable design solutions helps me connect with clients and colleagues.” Kari has a taste for adventure and a passion for sustainability, which she satisfies by exploring natural and urban environments.

Read more posts by Kari Nichols, PE

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