Thursday, August 7, 2008

Broken Sidewalk Blues

Who says there’s no topography in Houston? It’s mostly in the sidewalks wherever they pass a live oak. The roots snap those 4" thick slabs of concrete like matzoh.

My own oaks are not as big as the one in the photo above, but they've already broken up the city sidewalk. I need my driveway repoured (ah, check back on this one—the driveway will be pervious pavement) so I reasoned that we should have the crummy existing sidewalk taken out at the same time.

The hitch is that I refuse to spend money and resources to replace the sidewalk with more concrete, only to see it broken up next year by the natural and expected growth of the trees.

I made nifty architectural drawings in plan and section showing how I would use my horde of salvaged brick, set on a bed of stabilized sand, to replace the sidewalk. I took the drawings to the Houston permit office. After sitting down to four different desks, I was directed to go away and call the City Forester. He would make an visit to assess my sidewalk for a variance. Alas, the City Forester was on vacation. It occurred to me that the standard American vacation allotment of two weeks sounded quite generous, at that time anyway.

Meanwhile, the masons who came to give estimates told me the City would nix my bricks. So I investigated which alternatives will actually get the blessing of the City. My dizzying array of choices is: decomposed granite gravel or a steel panel. Using either of these requires City Forester’s approval.

No problem, I thought. I worked out this scheme: I would get the decomposed granite gravel sidewalk, then after it passed inspection, I would scrape off the top inches and set my bricks in the gravel. I am telling you this now because it’s not going to happen at all.

The City Forester refuses to give variance because replacing the sidewalk here with anything other than more concrete is a “personal preference” and as such, irrelevant. Actually my personal preference is that pedestrians be safe on the sidewalk in front of my house, and the trees be healthy. Isn't it a peculiar policy to require homeowners to use concrete, obviously not a great material for the application?

Now I don't think my crummy sidewalk is too bad afterall. I’ll keep it.

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