• 01.26.12

Depave: Returning Parking Lots To Paradise

You might not know what you’ve got till it’s gone, but plenty of people are starting to realize that acres and acres of pavement may not be the best use of our urban space. Depave is working to tear up that asphalt and make green spaces bloom again.

“From parking lots to paradise.” That’s one of the slogans of Depave, a nonprofit group determined to reverse Joni Mitchell’s grim vision of an asphalt-covered America.


For nearly four years, the Portland, Oregon-based group has been literally tearing up superfluous parking lots and other underused expanses of asphalt and turning them into productive greenspace.

In the summer of 2008, for their first project, Depave’s organizers recruited 147 volunteers to rip up a roughly 2,500-square-foot parking lot next to the Waypost Café in north Portland, eventually turning it into the Fargo Forest Garden. Since then, the group has pulled up unnecessary patches of asphalt all over the city. In its 20 projects so far, Depave has worked with schools, businesses, and even private residents to create new gardens, parks, landscaped yards, and at least one pumpkin patch.

The group says it has pulled up more than 94,000 square feet of asphalt so far, and counting. (The reclaimed asphalt, incidentally, is recycled.) For fans of the idea in other cities, the Depave website has resources explaining how to get a project funded and approved by the city, and suggestions for how to manage the space post-depaving.

Depave’s organizers like flowers and trees, of course, but the benefits of these projects go beyond treehugger aesthetics. In a place as rainy as Portland, runoff that flows along pavement and into storm drains, and eventually waterways, can carry with it oil, antifreeze, and other pollutants. Depaving allows more rainwater to seep into the earth instead. It also helps mitigate the urban “heat island” effect and can provide space for growing healthy food.

We may not need those tree museums after all, Joni.