Monday, August 22, 2011

New Green Sidewalk Thriving: Lessons Learned

Photos: Michael Helquist

The concrete’s gone, the plants are in, purple spikes and yellow blossoms flash along the sidewalk. Once it starts raining, the permeable aspect – letting the rain water reach the aquifer instead of the sewer – begins. It’s green, healthy and just the start of what we can do together for a more sustainable future.

Any good project deserves reflection and evaluation. What went really well, what surprised us, what might we have done better, and how well did the city permit process work?


  • For a large project, get input from friends and neighbors – we held a Design Lab last fall to exchange ideas
  • Attend the city’s Grey2Green workshop
  • Enlist the help of a landscape architect* to prepare drawings to-scale, select materials and plants, order at wholesale outlets and guide the planting
  • Have several pairs of eyes read the city’s sidewalk use restrictions
  • Host an event to present plans (and a fundraiser, if needed, to cover costs)
  • Remember to plan for every stage – including removal of the dirt
  • Make it a work party – so much better with music and food provided

From Grey2Green

  • Expect concrete cutting and removal to cost at least $5.50 per square foot
  • Schedule the concrete work to coincide with street cleaning hours and avoid the risk of damaging vehicles parked nearby during demolition
  • Expect to remove a lot of dirt – it will be sand or clay
  • Prep the required edging a few days before – the workday will be busy enough
  • Place new plants with soil and mulch one inch below the sidewalk or curb surface – this will help contain the rain water and irrigation

After the Planting

  • Celebrate and post photos online, thank everyone
  • Depending on the season and weather, water frequently to get plants thriving

Now We Know

  • Really do plan for dirt removal – we thought of everything but this
  • Read the city regs one more time – especially about the edging & courtesy paths
  • Do the prep work with the edging materials ahead of time – we rushed to saw 4"x6" beams and drill holes right before the workday started
  • Keep at the fundraising – unexpected costs will occur
  • Work can proceed in two phases – we left another stretch of sidewalk for the future

Working the System

  • City staff are friendly & enthusiastic,** but sometimes difficult to contact initially
  • You can’t get begin the work without a permit; allow 2-4 weeks
  • An initial inspection is required
  • Be sure to get a final inspection – the city sign-off increases liability protection
  • City website – DPW Bureau of Urban Forestry -- needs to be more user-friendly

How Much Did It Cost?

  • We removed 160 square feet of concrete at $5.50 per square foot
  • We purchased almost 100 plants and shrubs – we bought more mature plants
  • Plants and soil were obtained from a wholesale firm through our landscape architect
  • Total cost: approximately $3400
  • Total donations: approximately $3400***

Was It Worth It? Stop by Turk & Lyon and then start plans for your own Grey2Green project

* James Munden, senior landscape architect, at Marta Fry Landscape Associates/MFLA Studio, made all the difference to the success of this project

** Thanks to Markos Major, DPW Bureau of Urban Forestry for getting us through the permit process

*** Huge thanks to major donors Rev. Sally Bingham; Oz Erickson, President of the Emerald Fund and all those who supported this project from start to finish and at points in-between

Note: article first published at Green Turk & Lyon.

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