Depaving for a greener Ottawa

Strictly speaking, “depaving” is not a word. But it is something that several public schools here in Ottawa have been doing this spring with a little help from EnviroCentre.

As the word suggests, depaving means removing pavement, especially in the form of asphalt and concrete, to restore it to a more natural state. And thanks to a program run by Green Communities Canada in collaboration with EnviroCentre called Depave Paradise, the Elgin Street Public School and the École élémentaire publique Marie-Curie have successfully depaved areas of their schoolyard, creating space for living gardens.

“The clearest picture in my mind, with regards to a clear positive environmental impact of this project, is from the planting day after we had depaved the area. It rained the whole day. I loved seeing the rainwater drain into the depaved site and make a bit of a muddy mess. It was a glorious muddy mess!”

May Turcot, President of the School Council at École élémentaire publique Marie-Curie

Removing asphalt and replacing it with green space has many benefits, both for the community and the environment. Revegetating urban spaces with trees and plants helps to cool temperatures by providing shade and through the evapotranspiration of rain on the leaves. Green spaces also help restore the natural water cycle and to capture stormwater and create habitats for native birds, pollinators, and animals.

Depaving is also good for people, through the benefits associated with greenery and beautification, which is especially important in schoolyards.

“The classroom-learning that happens in the traditional school setting is not the perfect fit for every student”, explains May Turcot, President of the School Council at École élémentaire publique Marie-Curie, “this is certainly true for M. He is most happy helping with hands-on tasks where results are tangible and immediately useful. He did everything he could to make sure his mother brought him out to help on the planting day. When I saw him in school a week later, he ran up to me and gave me a huge hug. We are now connected because of shared time working toward this common goal. Year-to-year as he moves forward through the grades, he will be able to enjoy the new green space as it matures along with him. He is learning how to be a good citizen, an environmental steward.”

The concept behind Depave Paradise is simple: empowering citizens to transform impervious urban surfaces into beautiful green spaces using their own power. In fact, depaving projects are carried out by groups of volunteers by hand, as this connects people to each other and to their neighbourhood, giving them a sense of ownership towards the project.

In the case of these two public schools in Ottawa, the school community came together to not only remove the asphalt but also to plant in its place native plants and trees, creating seating areas for the students and faculty to enjoy.

“The Depave project at Elgin St. Public School has been instrumental in helping green the schoolyard. It looks great and will help students understand the benefits and joy of creating gardens and helping the environment in terms of reducing heat, reducing water run-off and promoting green growth for aesthetic and educational purposes. The EnviroCentre team made the project fun and easy to do and I would highly recommend this project to any school, especially ones located in the inner city.”

Mark Cruise, Elgin Street Public School Principal

For more information on Depaving please visit Depave Paradise.

Also, stay tuned for EnviroCentre’s next depave happening in Ottawa this September – we’re recruiting volunteers!

Depave Paradise received an Ontario Trillium Foundation Grant to fund depave projects throughout the province.

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