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Pulling up pavement: from parking lots to 'paradise'

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Robert Galbraith/Reuters/File

(Read caption) Workers spread asphalt on a street in a San Francisco neighborhood. Farther up the West Coast, in Portland, Ore., a group called Depave is removing unused pavement from the city, creating green spaces and cutting pollution from stormwater runoff.

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Maia Nativ’s job involves a lot of dirty work, and she loves it. She works as a fund raiser at Depave, a charity in Portland, Ore., whose mission tagline—“From parking lots to paradise”—upends the old Joni Mitchell song.

True to its name, the organization promotes the removal of urban pavement to create community green spaces, not just to prettify cities but also to prevent stormwater runoff from sweeping pollutants into streams and rivers.

Depave got its start in 2007 when Arif Khan bought a house in Portland that had a driveway and a garage—but he didn’t have a car. Mr. Khan demolished his driveway and garage and planted fruit trees in their place, giving birth to an idea. Over the past five years, Depave, his brainchild, has organized 24 events to remove 94,100 square feet of concrete and asphalt from sites around the city of Portland, soaking up more than 2,221,000 gallons of stormwater that otherwise would have gone into storm drains.

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Depave hosts four to six “prys” each summer, recruiting an all-volunteer labor force to break, pry up, and remove pavement from unused parking lots and former playgrounds. It is arduous and filthy work, yet 60 to 100 supporters show up each time to help.

“People ask why we use human power instead of renting a machine to remove the asphalt,” Ms. Nativ says. “Well, if 100 people come to an event and then each go home and tell just one friend how they spent their Saturday, then our mission and our goal just spread to 200 people.”

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