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Permeable Paving

Paving which allows water to percolate into the ground, thus replenishing the water table and reducing run-off.

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Going with the Flow: Permeable Paving and Beauty Underfoot

  • Jul 31, 2009
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The value of permeable paving became clear over the weekend when we had a series of intense thunderstorms. Out walking yesterday I saw several good sized ponds on asphalted driveways, as well as deltas of dirt and sand where runoff washed away parts of exposed soil.

Where asphalt had been replaced by brick or interlocking blocks, though, I saw no standing water. Water had been able to percolate into the soil, replenishing both the ground water and cutting down on run-off.

The walkways and parking places reminded me of the gorgeous paving mosaics I saw in Lisbon in May. While maintenance of such widespread use of small-block paving is easier where labour is cheap, a lot can be said for it even in North America. Repairs do not require breaking up a large swath of paving, since just the blocks affected can be replaced. And since our freeze and thaw cycle means that asphalt or concrete paving is going to break up after a few years anyway, why not start out with something that will move with the frost cycle without major damage?

The pictures are of several sorts of mosaics that I saw, from the most basic on ordinary, residential streets to the gorgeous designs on Avenida da Liberdade.

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August 03, 2009
Asphalt was billed for so long as being "easy" paving, but maintenance, particularly where there's a freeze and thaw cycle, is a problem. You can patch a driveway, but it looks, well, patchy. But if you use some sort of permeable paving block, you can replace the bad spots as they develop.

The first time I saw it was about 10 years ago in the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. The whole parking lot was paved in llinked blocks with grass growing up in the open places. Looked terrific, and was much more ecologically friendly.
August 03, 2009
I can see how asphalt is much easier to lay down than permeable paving, and I know what you mean about patchy -- there are bumps and holes in the roads all the time! 

Now that I think about it, I've actually seen a lot of permeable paving in China.  Some of which date back hundreds of years ago, but those old ones made mostly with round rocks weren't made to be ecologically friendly; they were made so that when you walked across them barefooted, you would get a foot massage.  A lot of modern attractions in China use flat, permeable paving though.  This needs to be used more in North America!
August 03, 2009
Wow, what lovely designs.  The type of pavement used and what they could do for water conservation and our environment has never even crossed my mind, so thank you for enlightening me!  Permeable paving sure beats asphalt and non-permeable paving :)
August 01, 2009
This concept makes sense to me. Especially in the North where we suffer the most from extreme weather. Plus, these mosaic designs are far more attractive to view.
About the reviewer
Mary Soderstrom is a Montreal-based writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her new collection of short stories, Desire Lines: Stories of Love and Geography, will be published by Oberon Press in November, … more
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Permeable paving is a range of materials and techniques for paving roads, parking lots and walkways that allow the movement of water and air around the paving material. Although some porous paving materials appear nearly indistinguishable from nonporous materials, their environmental effects are qualitatively different. Whether porous asphalt, concrete, paving stones or bricks, all these pervious materials allow precipitation to percolate through areas that would traditionally be impervious and instead infiltrates the stormwater through to the soil below.

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