Brick Sidewalks are ‘Green’

We have a large population of citizenry that values the concept of environmental sustainability.        It is true that some have tried to make “carbon” the bad guy due to the concept of ‘global warming’ but most just have that intrinsic Yankee common sense that has been with us since the 1800’s.      If we don’t produce huge amounts of waste and conserve and recycle our resources, then we save money and are good stewards of our community.

I have repeatedly shown the economic value of having brick sidewalks and how they can be ADA-compliant and safe at the same time.    I have also shown how much more durable bricks are than blacktop and even concrete.

But putting in brick sidewalks is also green.

Many people site the higher cost of City Hall/Boston pavers as the reason they don’t want to use this surface material.      Unfortunately, they don’t weigh in the labor and energy that is required to pour blacktop or cement.        A large truck has to come with hot bituminous material to pour in the material.     It requires an oil-based substance drawn from the world-wide oil industry to be spread by experienced workmen.      And the stuff doesn’t last.     Just ask the Department of Public Safety and the Water/Sewer Department.      High Street is a good example.     The blacktop was laid during Mayor Lavender’s administration and already there will soon be a need to strip it off again and re-pour it.       To save money, the Lavender Administration skipped the stripping of the old pavement and most of the present surface is literally at the top of the curbing thus encouraging flooding into resident basements and erosion of the sidewalks.      Plus, blacktop does not hold up well against our cold New England weather.    Basically, the blacktop has to be replaced at about the same time sequence as a homeowner has to stripping and painting their house: five to seven years.    It’s expensive and requires a constant drain on the taxpayer’s pockets.

The same in many instances holds true to concrete sidewalks.     On a durability scale, concrete holds up to our New England weather just fine.    There are depression-era surfaces from the 1930’s all over the city most requiring no replacement at all.     But installing new concrete requires the hauling in of a concrete truck and workmen spreading the materials.       But it’s impervious just like blacktop       No water is going to seep through to percolate and reach ground water.     The moisture is drawn down our already hard-pressed drains down to the common pasture or the river adding at times to flooding conditions.  Worse, ghastly quarries have cut into our landscapes for concrete material but in contrast, bricks are made of fired ‘mud’.      You’ll never stumble onto the remains of a ‘brick quarry’.

Just look at brick.     There is no need for jackhammers, large massive trucks and well-funded experienced workmen.     If the brick becomes uneven, you lift it up, stack it, fill in some stone dust and sand, pack it down and replace the bricks.      No dependence on the oil industry, no need for energy-generating machines; just the skill of a patient workman.       Brick is also sustainable.      Street after street of Newburyport are filled with sidewalks that were lain down in the early 19th century.      They last incredibly long and laugh (if they could laugh) at the fiercest New England cold and storms.   I have seen depression-era concrete shattered right next to ancient brick that is doing just fine.         

Brick also has a unique quality that the other materials do not.    They allow moisture to pass through them.     One of the greatest expensive threats has been too much impervious surfaces in our modern world.      The water has no place to go causing flooding– but this largely can be mitigated by allowing the water to seep into the ground rather than run off.      This is why weeds love to grow between our historic brick.      They can access water that is headed to the ground.       But here again, weeding and not some expensive process can remedy the problem.     

Historic brick is what is needed to frame our Newburyport Historic District.      It adds equity through heightened property values, increases consequently our tax rolls, adds beauty to our historic neighborhoods, encourages more heritage visitors and now can truly be called environmentally sustainable.

Benjamin Franklin lived by a creed that he claimed was the secret of his success, “Doing well by doing good”.

A Newburyport homeowner living in the historic district can use the same successful creed: reduce their impact, enrich themselves AND be environmentally green at the same time.     

A winning concept as solid as a brick.

-P. Preservationist



About P. Preservationist

Dedicated to the Enrichment & Preservation of Newburyport
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