Salem is a walkable city, and so our sidewalks are heavily trafficked. In theory passable sidewalks is an easy to agree upon goal. In practice...well there are a LOT of sidewalks in Salem. Street trees and freeze/thaw cycle are constantly working against passability. Then there is the question of paving material, a hot-button topic among certain crowds. In 2017 HSI met with concerned groups, including those concerned with seniors, neighbors with disabilities, and general walkability in Salem, to discuss how to ensure a seamless walking environment on our streets. All agreed that the two options for paving throughout the city are concrete or brick, with asphalt being phased out as quickly as possible. We met with the Mayor and city engineer to discuss this issue and emphasize our willingness to work together.
It is easy to start arguing where to put brick and where to put concrete, but it is ineffective to spend so much energy fighting over materials when the bigger issue is maintenance. Passability is rarely an issue of paving type, but more affected by the impact of tree roots and freeze/thaw cycles over time. Our informal coalition agreed that a minimum policy should be in place to undertake maintenance by replacing like with like (exception asphalt should be upgraded). When needed or wanted homeowners and neighborhoods should be able to evaluate when brick should be added where concrete currently exists, for instance in closing gaps between spans of brick. This would be highly favored in existing historic districts and we emphasize that other historic neighborhoods in the city should have equal access to the benefits of brick.
Again, we state that maintenance is key. It is here that brick sidewalks offer a quantifiable financial benefit. Bricks have a higher installation and material cost, but over a 40+ year lifespan maintenance costs can be a low as 85% less than replacing concrete (and certainly asphalt) over and over in that same period of time. This is due to the longevity of clay bricks, the ability to replace or reset a few at a time as needed, and lower damage in a freeze-thaw cycle. Well maintained bricks offer a wholly ADA compliant paving surface. In addition, brick manufacture and materials are more eco-friendly than concrete (and asphalt). Brick sidewalks the allow for better groundwater penetration and increase longevity of street trees.
Often brick versus concrete is an issue of personal preference. In that case context plays an important role. In very old neighborhoods brick was the historic paving material. It is often found in well-known historic neighborhoods such as Beacon Hill and our own Chestnut Street. However, it provides the same historic streetscape to less affluent neighborhoods, with the same advantages listed above, even if homeowners are unable to contribute to their installation. Perception plays in important part in neighborhood quality and brick sidewalks, which tend to signify that this area is important, should be available when appropriate. Existing brick sidewalks, in no matter which neighborhood they are found, should not be removed.
In Salem we enjoy such wonderful walkability, but the quality of the sidewalks themselves are often cause of concern (or injury!) We all agree that good sidewalks need to be installed and maintained. Historic Salem believes that where brick is appropriate (most historic neighborhoods) it offers long term cost savings, environmental benefits and contextual urban streetscaping. We encourage city officials to embrace the benefits of brick to the benefit of the community.
1. Hardscape North America, 2015. 2. Ibid. 3. Knapton. Whole life cost of flexibly that it clay pavements, Proceedings of the 4th International Masonry Conference, British Masonry Society. 1995. 4. Carmichael, Dennis. FASLA. EDAW, Inc. 5. Cooper, Rory, Ph.D., et.al. Evaluation of Selected Sidewalk Pavement Surfaces; 2002. 6. http://www.gobrick.com/resources/why-choose-brick
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Founded in 1944, Historic Salem Inc. is dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings and sites.