4 • THE CHRONICLE OF PHILANTHROPY
MAY 31, 2012
THE FACE OF PHILANTHROPY
An Urban Charity
Pulls Up Pavement
to Create ‘Paradise’
MAIA NATIV’S JOB involves a lot of dirty work, and she loves it. She works as a fund rais- er 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
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,” says Ms.
Nativ. “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.”
Depave makes extensive use of social media to
spread the word about events, but representatives
also attend neighborhood meetings and distribute fli-
ers near a planned “depaving” site.
The charity is currently run by two part-time staff
members, who donate their time during donation
droughts. Ms. Nativ first showed up to help with a depaving event in 2009. She oversees fundraising and
management of the group’s $65,000 annual budget,
95 percent of which pays for the depaving site work.
About 10 percent of revenue comes from individuals;
the bulk of Depave’s operating budget is covered by
local government grants, chiefly from soil- and water-conservation bureaus.
Laura Niemi, community-gardens program coordinator at Portland Parks & Recreation, has worked
with Depave to create green space on a former city
playground. “I was really impressed because they
were able to pull off a large, complex, and impressively professional event as an essentially all-volunteer
group,” says Ms. Niemi.
Beyond carrying on with Depave’s mission, says
Ms. Nativ, the charity intends to begin focusing on
policy issues, putting pressure on city lawmakers
to lower the number of parking spaces required per
building and increase parking spaces for bikes. Over
the long range, she says, the charity hopes its approach will spread to other American cities.
“After all,” she says, “anywhere you go, there’s a lot
of unnecessary asphalt.”
Here, Depave volunteers put their backs into their
work at a “pry.” —MICHELLE GIENOW
Photograph by Eric Rosewall