Seeing Seattle (xiii): simple pleasures on the sidewalk


Expensive, “look at me” sidewalks pavers are fine for some selected special places. But most sidewalks are pretty humdrum things. Trod underfoot, usually cracked, always puddled at corners, and roller-coastered for your wintertime walking adventure.

Sidewalks in Ottawa are the same as most other cities. Large poured concrete squares, about 5′ x 5′. You’d never know where you are by the looking at your feet.

But Seattle had a distinctive concrete tooling, shown in the lead picture. Here’s a longer view:


Sidewalks age over time, and decades on the sidewalk squares look like this:

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A few things really impressed me about these sidewalks. They were somewhat unique to Seattle, and established a sense of place, of not being just anywhere generic. They are cheap to install, just a bit of extra tooling when the cement is wet. They continue to utilize the existing skills of city maintenance crews and contractors (which is obviously minimal) which are limited to almost-self-levelling cement as opposed to the higher skill set required to lay pavers. The pattern is cheap, which is nice for rate payers. And the same sidewalk pattern was used everywhere in Seattle: downtown, old neighbourhoods, new suburbs too.

I think in the long run these will prove to be a better value than the variety of brick patterns Ottawa focusses on when rebuilding traditional mainstreets. Adjacent neighbourhoods here, of course, get the generic 5×5 blocks.

I have seen the odd bit of different pavement tooling in Ottawa. The NCC tried some on Wellington before they used granite pavers that are now being replaced by concrete pavers. The city used a bit in By Ward Market.

But never enough to create a sense that this is Ottawa’s pattern, Ottawa’s look. Maybe if there is another stimulus program, requiring job-ready projects, we could hire people to go out and retrofit our sidewalk squares by cutting the 5×5’s down to 5 x 2 1/2’s.

I was also impressed by the tree grates used in Seattle.

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Note that the above picture shows a pretty large tree planting zone. This tree might actually survive and grow, which would be decidedly unwelcome here, where we like our trees to be small and disposable.


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All of the grates shown are wheelchair and stroller and walker proof.

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The grate below is very small, covering a small patch of dirt alongside a building, where a vine has been planted.

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Here’s a section of sidewalk where the pavers are spaced about 1/2″ apart, to allow rain and air access to the tree roots. Permeable pavement. Not in Ottawa.


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This conspicuous sign taped to a tree alerts work crews and just as importantly tells passersby that the tree is valued, and invites you to “check” on work crews to ensure they are respecting our trees. Note the potential fine for damaging the tree: $27,000. Obvious care >> loved streetscapes.


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More ordinary sidewalk that doesn’t look like Ottawa. The burlap bags are actually solid somethings and are sittable sculptures:

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