Parking Spaces Transform into Parks

The annual event where metered parking spaces are temporarily transformed into parklets is almost here!  Park(ing) Day, started in 2005, celebrates public spaces in cities around the globe.  Anyone, from everyday citizens to landscape architects, can participate in this altruistic event which begs, “To call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat.”

The design and theme of Park(ing) spaces are limited only by one’s imagination.  Some are simple green spaces, perhaps featuring a shady place to sit on a bench, while others have branched out to offer “free health clinics, urban farms, ecology demonstrations, political seminars, art installations, free bike repair shops and even wedding ceremonies!”

There’s still time to participate in and support your local Park(ing) Day, Friday, September 20th!  Learn more from Park(ing)

The Wonders of Porous Pavement

What is porous pavement?

Porous pavement is a surface material that allows rainwater to filter through the surface to a stone reservoir beneath it.  From there, rainwater can infiltrate deeper into the ground and recharge aquifers, making it a practical and effective stormwater management tool.  It can be made of gravel, recycled rubber, even asphalt and concrete, and it has a multitude of applications.

Porous asphalt and concrete can be used for sidewalks, driveways and parking lots.  Poured-in-place bonded recycled rubber is perfect for playgrounds and trails where it offers a forgiving spongy surface underfoot.

So, why is it important to use porous pavements?

Stormwater management is a pressing issue throughout the U.S. because many cities and municipalities have what is called combined sewer systems.  These systems handle both household waste water and stormwater, where it is transported to sewer treatment plants for cleaning.  Because of the immense amount of impervious surfaces (those surfaces that don’t allow water to infiltrate into the soil below), the amount of stormwater runoff is overwhelming to the treatment plants.

In turn, both the stormwater runoff and waste water ends up in our rivers and streams without first undergoing treatment.  This water now contains dangerous levels of bacteria, pollutants (oil, trash, etc.) from the street and heated water (from flowing over hot paved surfaces).  The effects are devastating on aquatic creatures and plants that live in our waterways, and our own drinking water supplies become contaminated, as well.

So, in areas where paving is necessary, porous pavements can reduce our impact on the environment.  Learn more about stormwater management on your own property in my previous post here.

Photo above of Herron Park, Philadelphia, which features a porous recycled rubber surface for the playground.  The surrounding neighbors welcomed the transformation of the basketball court where the sound of bouncing balls is absorbed by the porous asphalt surface!  And, the addition of rain gardens and dozens of trees and shrubs bring nature to this city block.  Courtesy of Langan.


The Right Landscaping Can Lower Your Energy Bills!

While most houses are not passive solar homes (designed and oriented so as to capture the sun’s warmth in winter and keep the house cool and comfortable in summer), there are some easy things we can do with our landscaping to compensate for this that will lower our utility bills.

The upcoming fall season is actually a great time for planting.  When strategically placed around your property, trees and shrubs will reduce your heating and cooling bills year after year.  Be sure to use native plants whenever possible, since they are naturally adapted to your region and provide a multitude of benefits.  Plant selections will depend upon your plant hardiness zone, region and site conditions.

Some general guidelines include:


Landscaping that Provides Rest Areas for Migrating Birds & Butterflies

The annual migration of millions of birds and butterflies over thousands of miles is an amazing feat.  Look up, and you might even see it, as it’s happening right now through the fall months across the country!  Creating welcoming habitat on your property, where these incredible creatures can safely rest and find food & shelter along the way, is key to their survival.

The vast majority of land in the U.S., especially in the Eastern, Midwest and Great Plains regions, is privately owned.  This means that the welfare of our feathered friends depends largely on private landowners.  According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “75% of threatened or endangered species occur on private lands,” so you can see that collectively, we can create an environment that is good for them and for us!  It’s more important than ever that we do so because of habitat loss.

What you can do:


Toxic Driveway Sealants

In my previous post, I showed the top 5 ways to make a driveway, yes driveway, more environmentally friendly.  Even our driveways can be more green!  Now there’s evidence that sealing our driveways and other blacktops with coal tar sealants is toxic.  These sealants not only contaminate our soil and drinking water supplies as rain water washes down them, but they raise the risk of cancer in living things exposed to it.

Two states, and many townships have already banned coal tar sealants, and many schools have opted for safer alternatives for their paved surfaces because studies show coal tar sealants contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which are carcinogenic and mutagenic.

What you can do:

  1. Sign the petition here to get Congress to ban this toxic sealant.
  2. Avoid using sealants on your own driveway that contain:  coal tar, refined coal tar, coal tar pitch or RT-12.  If you must seal your driveway, use latex sealants or asphalt-based sealants.
  3. If you have your driveway sealed by professionals, make sure they are not using coal tar sealants.  Consumer buying power will make a difference!
  4. If you are putting in a new driveway or replacing an old degraded one, check out these cool eco-friendly options.


photo courtesy of Rodale News


Turf Wars, Part II

In Turf Wars, Part 1, I began this series talking about the numerous harmful effects our lawns have on our environment, with a special focus on water issues.  Here, I’ll concentrate on why lawns are detrimental to birds and why this matters.

Birds (as well as the many other creatures adversely affected by lawns) do us a great service and serve an integral role in the web of life.

  • They eat pests like mosquitoes, Japanese beetles and other insects
  • They control rodent populations
  • They pollinate flowers
  • They distribute seeds they consume to help in reforestation
  • Scavenging birds help clean up our environment
  • They serve as environmental indicators
  • They provide entertainment for bird watchers

So, how do our innocent lawns play a part in declining bird populations?


Turf Wars, Part I

We all have them…and we’re always fighting with them, to keep them short & stout, weed-free and just the right color.  They consume our time, money, energy & water, and in return, they provide us with noise, air & water pollution.  They contribute to droughts and flooding.  Maintaining them also degrades many things:  the environment, critical habitat for beneficial insects, birds & other animals, and our very own health.  So what are these terrible things?…  Our lawns!

Why do we have to fight with them so?  The simple answer is because they don’t belong here.  Most lawn grasses are not native and do MUCH more harm than good.  Why would we invest in something so detrimental to our lives and the lives of other living creatures?  Simply put, it’s out of habit and familiarity.

Hopefully after reading this series of posts, you’ll never look at a lush lawn the same way. 


What Happens to Obsolete Olympic Parks After the Games?

Years of planning and tons of money are invested in the chosen host cities, but what happens after the Olympics?  Many Olympic Parks are re-purposed into lively attractions, while others are left to decay with little interest.

The Good with the Bad:  The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.  Here, the Olympic Water Cube now holds China’s largest indoor water park and the Bird’s Nest building is still used for sports and cultural events.  However, many of the other stadiums are now unused.

Athens hosted the 2004 Olympic Games, and while the city advanced with a new subway system and airport, much of its Olympic Park has been abandoned and now lies as modern ruins.  The sad economic state is not helping matters either, of course.

A perilous bobsled track stands as an eery remnant of the 1984 games in Sarajevo, Bosnia, despite much of the park being bombed by Serbian forces.

Thankfully, some Olympic Parks have fared better:


Recycled Granite Pavers Add Luxury to Your Landscape

While I’m not a huge fan of the granite countertop industry because of the environmental effects of mining the ancient stone and the around-the-world customary shipping, they’re obviously very popular in kitchens today.

Another issue is the massive amount of waste left over after fabricating the countertops.  Luckily, there are some innovative companies out there who saw this scrap granite as a new resource.  They reclaim it to produce durable, solid stone pavers, three times stronger than concrete, for walkways, patios, driveways, pool decks and outdoor kitchens.  Other hardscape products are created as well, including split stone tiles and veneers for stone walls and fireplaces.

Additional advantages of a recycled granite product include:


Sculpture Parks Can Inspire your own Garden Design

Sculpture parks or gardens creatively combine art and landscape, where they complement each other beautifully.  Strategically placed sculptures in the garden evoke a sense of wonder and whimsy.  Pieces can be abstract or realistic, and can serve as focal points at the end of a garden path or balance an asymmetrical landscape design.

By studying these magical places, we can learn about such design principles as scale and balance, as well as design elements like form, texture and color, all of which can be translated to our own backyard gardens.  We can even apply similar concepts by creating our own garden art with recycled materials and found objects.

Here’s a list of some of the sculpture gardens in the U.S. (some even offer free admission!):


« go backMore articles »