Depave in action

Unpave paradise, get rid of the parking lots

Our country, America the Beautiful, boasts somewhere between 105 million and 2 billion parking spaces, according to a New York Times blog that caught my eye the other day. 

This boggles my mind on two levels:

  • First – really?! – we don’t actually know whether the parking space inventory in our country is 105 million, or 20 frackin’ times as much?  That strikes me as a wildly enormous blind spot.
  • Second, the blog previews a study coming out in March that guestimates the number of parking spaces at 500 million (1/4 of the high end estimate), which would mean our country is devoting over 3,500 square miles of valuable land base to pavement earmarked for car storage, an area larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.   

There’s no way to justify dedicating two of our 50 states to temporary storage of machines that move us around.  Obviously, there’s something wrong with this picture. 

The good news is that, in total, there are thousands of square miles – yes, thousands of square miles -- in our country that we might convert from lifeless pavement to something better. Thousands of square miles to dream of something better, greener, more beautiful and fun -- what an incredible opportunity for our generation to give to the next generation!  

One of my favorite examples of people seizing the opportunity is the non-profit organization Depave. Depave, based in Portland, Oregon, rips out unused pavement in urban areas to create community green spaces that mitigate stormwater runoff.  To date, 94,100 square feet of asphalt has been depaved, and over 2 million gallons of stormwater diverted from drains. As their slogan aptly puts it: “Asphalt, be gone.”

To cope with the legacy of carbon pollution that is destabilizing Earth’s climate – and threatening the long-term habitability of Earth that we take for granted – things are gonna have to change.  Can we convert some of this pavement to better, greener uses – perhaps 1-2 thousand square miles or so? 

That’s a big audacious challenge that will require the creative energy of a whole lot of people that care about the future. The Northwest Biocarbon Initiative is working to spark that kind of creativity to, for example, make lifeless acres green again and America that much more beautiful again for the next generation.

Rhys Roth's picture

Director, Center for Sustainable Infrastructure

, Climate Solutions

Rhys Roth co-founded Climate Solutions in 1998, and left the organization in July 2013 to create the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure.

To connect with the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure, contact Rhys Roth at [email protected] or 360-867-6906.