Hit the Pavement: The Benefits of Distinctive Paving Materials

A recent post at The Dirt discusses an important but sometimes overlooked element of urban design: pavement.

The post explores several examples in which designers have used paving materials to create “simple geometric forms” and “subtly elegant” public spaces.

In cities of the American West, even the oldest of which are relatively new, it can be hard to remember that there are other options for paving besides cement. Westerners may also forget that throughways can be and still are paved with things like stone and brick. In other words, those materials aren’t just for the “olden days” and most cobbled places have to be maintained and refinished just like any other road or sidewalk.

In any case, the post emphasizes that different paving materials can create better, more inviting public spaces. They also  can be used to create symbolic meaning in public spaces. There’s a whole discussion to be had about the environmental impact of different paving materials, but I’ll save that for a later post.

Most of Provo’s public spaces are paved with concrete and asphalt — though the crosswalks on center street are stamped and colored so the asphalt looks like brick. Some work well, but paving materials are worth looking at as a way to create distinctive and more inviting spaces.

Black and white paving in the central square of Manaus, Brazil. This paving pattern is achieved with small black and white stones and is common throughout Brazil. It’s particularly associated with Rio de Janeiro, though it actually originated in Manaus and symbolizes the “encontro das aguas” — or the meeting of the waters — where two tributaries of the Amazon meet and run side by side without mixing for miles. One of the tributaries carries paler water than the other, so the river has distinct dark and light sides until the water finally mixes downstream. That multi-colored river phenomenon is what inspired this paving design.

Like much of Europe, the Vatican is paved with stone. It’s important to remember, however, that the stones in this picture haven’t simply sat in place since the Vatican was built. Instead, the Vatican obviously exerts an ongoing effort to maintain and refurbish its cobbled pavement.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Hit the Pavement: The Benefits of Distinctive Paving Materials

  1. Carlyn Barrus

    This is something I’ve been thinking about, too. We live on what used to be a quite street, but a new road has been added in our neighborhood recently that has made traffic much faster. It’s made me want to do a project like this: http://www.pps.org/great_public_spaces/one?public_place_id=504 which is part of the Intersection Repair Project (part of the City Repair Project) in Portland. Visual changes in roads can have a huge impact on traffic, as well as the other good things you mentioned. It makes people slow down and become more aware of where they’re traveling, which makes whole neighborhoods more pedestrian (and biking) friendly. Creative uses of pavement in Provo could be more effective than speed bumps or those electronic speed limit signs. Until we get to that point, though, don’t be surprised if you wake up one day to find a big huge flower painted on 300 South!

  2. Pingback: And the Streets Are Paved In… All Sorts of Things | (pro(vo)cation)

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