GreenWorks ❤️’s Depave

The Depave work party at  Latourette Park  in Oregon City

The Depave work party at Latourette Park in Oregon City

Depave has been replacing local parking lots with paradises by hosting community work parties for more than ten years. With mentions in Time Magazine, the BBC, and The Guardian, it’s become a bit of a phenomenon—so much so it’s now a verb.

We’ve loved attending some of the work parties and have been honored to help design some of the “depaved” spaces. We’re excited to be working on another one right now. If you haven’t heard of them, Depave describes their work like this:

“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.”

Nadja and Ben (background) with volunteer carpenter, Reed Parsons, working on the GreenWorks designed  Inukai Boys and Girls Club  Green Playspace

Nadja and Ben (background) with volunteer carpenter, Reed Parsons, working on the GreenWorks designed Inukai Boys and Girls Club Green Playspace

“We do this because we believe strongly in what they do,” GreenWorks’ Associate Ben Johnson said. “The act of a city rallying around a community space, laboring together builds community—it builds pride. It’s great for kids because they get to physically remove the pavement right alongside the adults, the whole time learning what they’re doing and why it’s important.” Ben and others from the GreenWorks team contribute in the work parties, but we also participate in design processes for what “depaved” spaces will become. Ben coordinates these efforts for GreenWorks.

“Having a positive impact on the environment means having an impact on how we perceive the environment,” Nadja Quiroz, one of our landscape designers, explained, “and where better a place to do it then where kids are at every day?”

Nadja likes the fact Depave now seeks out underserved schools as locations for their work. “They find ways to inject habitat into our cities and see nature as a shared heritage,” she said. “Depave brings the benefits of natural spaces to where children and the environment need it most.”

We had Katya Reyna, Depave’s new Project & Volunteer Coordinator, over to the office the other day for a lunchtime design charette. Members of our team passed trace paper and pencils around and came up with ideas of what could replace excess asphalt at Powell Butte Elementary—nature play, stormwater management, and plenty of foliage were the major ingredients in everyone’s designs.

We feel like GreenWorks’ mission aligns with ours. Connecting people with nature is what we do when we rip out asphalt and replace it with plants and play equipment. We also prioritize the why, which GreenWorks does as well. We also love working with Ben!
— Katya Reyna, Project & Volunteer Coordinator at Depave

Katya recently joined Depave after completing a master’s in landscape architecture at the University of Oregon (in the same cohort as Nadja!) and she sat down with us to talk about the Powell Butte Elementary project and why it matters.


Katya and the GreenWorks team discussing the Powell Butte Elementary site plan

Katya and the GreenWorks team discussing the Powell Butte Elementary site plan

GW: What will this mean for students at Powell Butte Elementary?

KR: A huge part of what we do is include the community in the process. We want to kids be invested and excited about what is going to happen. We make sure they know what is happening and when it’s going to happen. This ensures longevity and keeps eyes and stewardship on the site long after we finish.

Depave is a big work party. We’re literally ripping the asphalt out of the ground together. Depaving becomes educational for everyone when we talk about the environmental benefits of removing impermeable surfaces, such as reducing stormwater pollution and the urban heat island effect. We say things like, “See all this pollution?” and “It’s hot out here, guess why? It’s all this pavement!”

Depave is social, environmental, and even economic—because people like to visit businesses that look nice! This year we’re involved in depaving a Community Investment Trust commercial retail mall called Plaza 122, the Portland office of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Kelly Elementary, and Powell Butte Elementary, which will be the first of three Title 1 schools we will depave in the Centennial School District.

The team reviewing each other’s ideas for Powell Butte Elementary

The team reviewing each other’s ideas for Powell Butte Elementary

GW: What is your design process?

KR: It depends on the site. Sometimes the site representatives have a plan and we just provide our volunteer force and grant funding to make the actual depaving happen. Other times, the site partner has less of a plan and we help do that work. This could include everything from permitting to design to the build ourselves. For example, at Plaza 122, I am designing the stormwater plantings.

GW: How does GreenWorks fit into this process?

KR: We feel like GreenWorks’ mission aligns with ours. Connecting people with nature is what we do when we rip out asphalt and replace it with plants and play equipment. We also prioritize the why, which GreenWorks does as well. We also love working with Ben!

Learn more about Depave’s work here and join us in the fall as we help Depave transform Powell Elementary School. See the list of upcoming events here.  KPTV also did two great segments about Depave, see them here and here.