De-paving London: the benefits of removing concete slabs in cities — from increasing biodiversity to reducing flooding

De-paving the way: the Kerb Garden in Clapham, a local volunteer-led scheme (2022 The Edible Bus Stop)
De-paving the way: the Kerb Garden in Clapham, a local volunteer-led scheme (2022 The Edible Bus Stop)

Tarmac, concrete, stone: the materials we most commonly experience beneath our feet in London. Sure, it keeps your shoes clean but it also increases surface run-off when it rains, causing flooding and overflowing sewage systems, plus it radiates summer heat back at night, worsening urban warming.

The benefits of de-paving are many. Grey space is dead space. Removing even some of the covered-over ground in your garden encourages biodiveristy — plant up even the greyest corner of London and the birds, bees and bugs will come.

De-paved ground allows rain water to percolate into the earth where it falls, nourishing plants, refilling aquifers and reducing flooding, while plants are our best weapon for cooling spaces.

And let’s not forget the mental health benefits of greenery. Replacing even one paving slab will let the nature in.

Old paving stones have been repurposed as retaining walls in The Kerb Garden (2022 The Edible Bus Stop)
Old paving stones have been repurposed as retaining walls in The Kerb Garden (2022 The Edible Bus Stop)

How to get started

1. Get permission

If you own the space in question then just dig in. If you don’t — for example, if you’re renting or have a restrictive lease —then you will probably need to get permission first. Speak to your landlord and start small. If you’re hoping to garden a public space, getting a group of locals together to make the case will increase your chances of success.

2. Find out what’s underneath

Do some initial investigative work to find out what lies beneath the paving you plan to remove. Concrete slabs are normally laid on a layer of sand; other surfaces might take a bit more effort to remove. Be cautious of underground utilities such as water pipes and drains. The smaller the plant, the less you need to worry.

3. Repurpose the paving slabs

What are you going to do with the paving you’ve removed? Take inspiration from community gardens such as the Phoenix Garden in Soho, which has used old slabs to create raised planting spaces, or the Kerb Garden in Clapham, where old kerb stones have been repositioned as retaining walls.

4. Parking spaces

If you still need somewhere to park a vehicle, can you de-pave the spaces in between? If you can’t remove the surface, could you build a dry garden full of succulent plants on top of it?

Break the rules (just not your rental agreement). A greener London is a better place for all of us.