Last month, the Project for Public Spaces announced its Streets as Places Initiative.  Here is the goal of the PPS program “PPS is undertaking a major initiative called “Streets as Places.” This initiative seeks to engage citizens, policymakers and the transportation industry at-large to reshape the planning and design of transportation networks and streets to promote and support economic vitality, civic engagement, human health, and environmental sustainability, while simultaneously meeting peoples’ mobility needs.” See the article here.

Streets in city centers need to serve more than just vehicular traffic.  Increasingly the goals of cities include making public thoroughfares more pedestrian friendly as well as making their cores more conducive to people spending time.  It is good for business and good for the community to have public spaces that are appealing.  It is an appropriate use of time, effort, and money to revitalize public places and adapt them for new use.

Porphyry, by its legacy use, has been incorporated into mixed-use European streets for centuries.  Many people don’t know porphyry by name but have walked on it in the streets of Verona, Paris, and Frankfurt.  Porphyry provides the background for an aesthetic appealing and usable streetscape where pedestrians safely mix with vehicles.

Below are pictures of porphyry streets in Frankfurt from a recent trip by one of our company’s representatives.  Frankfurt porphyry street

Note the street cafes, vehicles, and pedestrians sharing use.

Frankfurt porphyry pedestrian street

Porphyry’s natural durability and texture make it perfect for mixed use and inclement weather. It’s aesthetic appeal is undeniable.  No one I know has stood on a porphyry street and told me that they wished it was asphalt.

In many design schemes, paving is done with cheap materials because paving is part of the background.  In terms of aesthetic appeal, porphyry has no equal.  Materials have been invented as imitations like concrete pavers and stamped concrete.  These materials are chosen for immediate economic reasons and not because they are the best choice.  They lack the durability of porphyry which leads to another reason to choose porphyry over the alternatives: the disruption and cost of replacing less durable materials.  It is disruptive to the economy of a city to have streets and plazas blocked while maintenance and replacement are taking place.

Porphyry’s use as a paving material is relatively new in the United States.  Its use is growing in recent years and the value it adds to the design of public spaces will endure.