Depaving Ottawa Schools

by EnviroCentre

Although you won’t find the definition of “depaving” in the dictionary, several public
schools here in Ottawa have been busy doing just that this spring. 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 school yard, creating space for living gardens.

“The clearest picture in my mind, with regards to a clear positive environmental impact
of this project,” explains May Turcot, President of the School Council at École
élémentaire publique Marie-Curie, “is from the planting day after we had depaved the
area. It rained the whole day. I loved seeing the rain water drain into the depaved site
and make a bit of a muddy mess. It was a glorious muddy mess!
Indeed, removing asphalt and replacing it with green space has a many benefits, both
for the community and the environment. Re-vegetating 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 school yards.
The classroom-learning that happens in the traditional school setting is not the perfect
fit for every student”, continues Turcot, “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 a long 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 the two public schools in Ottawa, parents, teachers,
and students 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. PS has been instrumental in helping green the school
yard”, says Mark Cruise, Elgin Street Public School Principal. “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.

For more information on Depaving please visit Depave Paradise and stay tuned for EnviroCentre’s next depave happening in Ottawa this September!
Depave Paradise received an Ontario Trillium Foundation Grant to fund depave projects
throughout the province.


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