Institute of Ecosystem Studies

2009 BES Annual Meeting Presentation and Poster Abstracts

From Green to Black and Back: Asphalt Removal in Baltimore.
Buckley, Geoffrey
Co-Authors: Geoffrey L. Buckley (Ohio University) and Christopher G. Boone (Arizona State University)

Abstract: During the mid-1950s, the Women’s Civic League of Baltimore --- responding to surveys which indicated a "lack of play space in both blighted and non-blighted areas" of the city --- requested funds from the mayor’s office to convert vacant lots into recreational spaces. They were especially interested in developing playgrounds near schools. The Mayor’s office appropriated $29,000 for the project and city workers immediately set about the task of grading, fencing, and surfacing twelve city lots. Soon fifty additional lots were incorporated into the playground master plan known as "Lots for Tots." At the time, low maintenance costs and "grass preservation problems" made asphalt the preferred surface of the Bureau of Parks and Recreation and the Office of the Superintendent of School Facilities. By the mid-1960s, however, residents in several downtown neighborhoods were decrying the use of asphalt as a recreational surface. Today, the city of Baltimore is engaged in an effort to replace many of these asphalt playgrounds. In this paper we trace the historical roots of applying asphalt to school and park grounds in Baltimore to meet the recreational needs of urban dwellers, investigate the negative consequences of replacing natural cover with low-albedo impermeable surfaces, and examine recent public and private efforts to reintroduce "natural" surfaces to densely populated urban areas. With little space or money available for the creation of new parks, the replacement of asphalt-covered surfaces with grass and trees presents resource managers and residents with an important "greening" option.