Depave: Tearing up concrete in cities and transforming them into green spaces

Depave, a Portland-based non-profit, is helping local schools and businesses to transform over-paved areas into lush landscapes to soak up rainwater and help prevent flooding.

By tearing up concrete and asphalt in local neighbourhoods, with the help of community groups and volunteers, Depave is replacing areas of concrete jungle with community gardens that bring people together, provide play and learning spaces, provide places to grow food, capture stormwater and add to the urban tree canopy.

In a natural environment, soil and plants would absorb rainfall, but in the city, concrete in the form of streets, buildings, and parking lots cover the ground. Rain washes over these surfaces and becomes stormwater runoff, which carries oil and other pollutants to rivers and streams.

Since the organisation was founded in 2008, Depave has transformed some 75 parking lots across Portland, removing 150,000 square feet of pavement by hand with the help of more than 3,000 volunteers.

Depave’s projects improve the environment, and estimates that the projects it has been involved in have diverted more than 4 million gallons of stormwater runoff from local watersheds.

Depave say: “The problem is concrete. Paved surfaces contribute to stormwater pollution, whereby rainwater carries toxic urban pollutants to local streams and rivers, greatly degrading water quality and riparian habitats. Pavement also disconnects us from our natural world.

“The solution is clear. The removal of impervious pavements will reduce stormwater pollution and increase the amount of land available for habitat restoration, urban farming, trees, native vegetation, and beauty, thus providing us with greater connections to the natural world.

“Depave empowers community members to change their surroundings from pavement to thriving landscapes that bring people together, foster stewardship, increase safety, augment play and learning spaces, provide places to grow food, capture stormwater and add to the urban tree canopy.”

The idea for Depave came about when founder Arif Khan moved into a home in northeast Portland in 2001 which had a back yard that was completely paved over. Attracted to the opportunity to tear up the concrete, he looked at this as a wonderful way to transform a dead space designed for car storage into an urban oasis filled with herbs, vegetables, flowers, fruits, and native plants.

While Arif Khan was living in Portland he was able to harvest figs, plums, apples, persimmons, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, and various vegetables and herbs from his old driveway.

Depave have similar movements in Cleveland and Canada.

The Depave model has the potential to be scalable anywhere in the world. Depave has created a guide for anyone wanting to create green space by tearing up concrete and asphalt, which is available via their website.

Image Source: Depave Facebook page


Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at

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