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Stamped Concrete Accent Strip for Sidewalks in New Uphams Corner


At the earliest community meetings in 2012, the Public Works urban planners suggested the brick sidewalks be replaced by poured concrete. For some residents, that was a radical change. How could Uphams Corner give up the rustic look of real brick?

That bricks are a problem was clear but surely there had to be a way to make brick sidewalks safe(r). The more community members looked into the inherent difficulties associated with paver solutions, the more the poured concrete appeared the best option. Poured concrete sidewalks will take some time getting used to but they will certainly improve public safety.

For some members of the community, "no bricks" was a reason to celebrate. No more falling and no more attacks using bricks as weapons.


Why an Accent Strip?

Public Works also touted the use of a contrasting "accent strip" as a smart design idea - the strip to be made of real brick.

Perhaps the brick accent strip was a way of softening the "no brick" blow - the "loss" of the rustic look. "No," they said, "the use of an accent strip is simply a part of good urban design." According to Para Jayasinghe: "For an urban designer, an accent strip creates a visual contrast between white color (concrete) and something else."

Contrast serves as a visual cue and attracts the eye while sameness (all white) does not. Contrast, selectively placed, can also assist in community conversation, cohesion and common understanding.

Still, some community members remained concerned about the use of brick in the accent strip. "It doesn't matter how little brick is used. If it gets loose, it will be a safety hazard or a weapon."


Bricks Discussion Turns to Stamped Concrete

On May 24, 2013, Public Works held a community meeting about landscaping (not bricks). The meeting began with Henry Nevarez, business owner, stating in no uncertain terms his opposition to the use of bricks in the sidewalks. He also submitted a petition signed by 140 Uphams Corner residents/shoppers opposed to the use of brick. Public Works said they would make note of his concern but said the topic was not relevant to this meeting.

The landscape meeting went well, giving time for additional discussion. As a result, Public Works addressed the issue of "bricks/no bricks."

Para opened with a statement: "There is no one at City Hall who is advocating for bricks. No one. It is a maintenance challenge. It violates multiple ADA standards. So I do not want any person to believe that we, the city, are pushing bricks."

He went on to explain that Public Works is charged with creating, in this once in a 30-year visit to Uphams Corner, the best design possible for the money available. Incorporating an accent strip is a priority because it provides a way to break the monotony of concrete gray.

He suggested the use of stamped concrete as an alternative to brick. Stamped concrete provides the safety of poured concrete while offering a way to create an accent color, design or both. He suggested we take a look at a site in Roslindale where this has been done.


Stamped Concrete on Cummins Hwy

Public Works suggested a visit to a site in Roslindale where stamped concrete has been installed. Take a look and see if this seems like a good solution for Uphams Corner.

The location is the intersection of Cummins Highway and Canterbury Street near Cummins Towers. The public areas outside the fire station and the Towers buildings have been created using stamped concrete and give the appearance of brick. The entryway into Cummins Towers is a real brick sidewalk and located very close to the stamped concrete, so comparing the two areas was easy.

Photos

Stamped Concrete Cummins Towers
Stamped concrete plaza just outside Cummins Towers
Stamped Concrete Cummins Towers
Across the street outside the Fire house
Stamped Concrete Cummins Towers
Real brick - more vibrant with clear grout lines
Stamped Concrete Cummins Towers
Stamped concrete - lower contrast and
looking faded as it dries

Stamped Concrete Cummins Towers
"Red" grout lines in stamped concrete
Looks more like painted brick
Stamped Concrete Cummins Towers
Up close - a bit rough around the edges
but follows the curve well.


Observations
  • The red color of the stamped concrete does NOT look like brick. The color is too uniform and the grout lines are also red. Real brick offers a contrast between the color of the brick and the grout lines.
  • Where there was dirt in the grout lines, the stamped concrete with looked better because the dirt made the grout lines look more realistic.
  • The real brick sidewalks looked like brick but the stamped concrete, at best, looked like painted brick.
  • Some sections of the stamped concrete were wet from rain while other sections were dry. The dry concrete looked dull as if it were covered in a dusty haze.
Comments
  • Attempting to simulate brick with a single approximate color doesn't work well. It is like trying to simulate human skin color with brown or pink or white. Depth of color comes from the presence of multiple colors.
  • There is an example of a stamped concrete installation at 121 E Cottage St in Uphams Corner. It uses a lot of color variation and provides an enhanced simulation of texture (more realistic looking stone)


Stamped Concrete East Cottage St Stamped Concrete East Cottage St
Stamped Concrete East Cottage St

Stamped Concrete East Cottage St Stamped Concrete East Cottage St


Suggestion

Consider isolating the accent strip to just the landscape areas.
  • The technique for stamping concrete requires a thinner mixture which may make it more fragile (??).
  • Around the landscape areas, the stamped concrete could be used to create an "accent plaza" and would serve as a way of "welcoming" the visitor to the sites. In essence, that would increase the apparent size of the landscape areas.
  • Utility contractors have a difficult enough time with repairing concrete and often fill that in with asphalt. What will happen with an accent strip all along Columbia Rd? If the stamped concrete is reserved for the landscape areas only, the degradation to Uphams Corner will be minimized.
  • Plain sidewalks are quite acceptable especially if flower planters, banners and art pieces are installed. People usually see what is at their eye level. Decorating at the feet is not that important.
  • Visitors will remember the banners and flower/landscape beds much longer than a sidewalk accent strip so save the City's money for something else.


Decision Made & Challenges Ahead


On May 24, Public Works issued a decision: they would not be using brick in the sidewalk accent strip. Instead, they are proposing the use of stamped concrete.

As a result of the May 24 meeting, the community has a better understanding of sidewalk design principles being following by the Public Works urban design team. Their decision to not use bricks will enhance public safety for everyone - residents and visitors to Uphams Corner.

So the challenge for Public Works and the community is to identify an aesthetically pleasing stamped concerete design that works well in Uphams Corner. Many stamped concrete designs exist and have been installed world wide, some more complex and expensive than others.

What happens if a section of stamped concrete has to be excavated by a utility contractor? Will we be back to mixing a contrast strip with asphalt? That will immediately begin the downhill slide. The "broken glass" theory applies. One broken window encourages more broken windows (permission). A utility contractor "knowing" they can get away without properly restoring a high quality sidewalk will give a signal to others that "it's ok."




Posted: June 5, 2013 Nancy J Conrad


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