By JAMES KENNEDY/ecoRI News contributor
PROVIDENCE — Cluck! has earned the exclamation point at the end of its name.
George Harvey and his team from Groundwork Providence, a nonprofit dedicated to building a cleaner, safer and greener capital city, went to work July 22 at Cluck! to remove a sizable portion of its paved parking lot. Although the city’s zoning ordinances require Cluck! to have three off-street parking spots, the new business will not provide any more than required by law. It will instead use the remaining space that was once paved for stormwater mitigation by planting several tupelo and shad trees.
Close followers of this story will recall that Providence’s zoning restrictions were an obstruction during the initial zoning process, almost derailing the business, which had already done tens of thousands of dollars of improvements to the abandoned gas station at 399 Broadway, before it even opened.
Groundwork Providence has been doing similar work in Pawtucket, Woonsocket and Central Falls, due in large part to funding from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Twelve percent of Rhode Island, the country's second-densest state after New Jersey, is covered by impervious surfaces such as parking lots, roads, roofs and concrete. Much of the pollution in Narragansett Bay washes in from paved-over surfaces. The problem has reached comic proportions. A study published earlier this year noted that Rhode Island’s top location for Craigslist “missed connections” was parking lots, putting it at odds with neighboring Massachusetts, where a plurality of missed connections happen on the MBTA.
Although Tennessee listed its No. 1 location as Walmart, many states such as Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington listed public transportation as their No. 1 location, according to the study.
Cluck! owner, Drake Patten, who holds a master’s degree in archeology, said the process of removing the asphalt reminded her of digs she had been on. At the University of Virginia, she removed many layers of a road, seeing the various surfaces — concrete, asphalt and cobblestone — that had been popular at different stages in history. She noted that macadam — a collection of gravel with a binder, similar but more permeable than today’s asphalt — had held together the best through the years.
While other layers were destroyed in part or whole by the elements, the macadam layer was intact. Patten mused about a day in which the on-street parking spots on Broadway might be simple gravel, with only the street and bike lanes paved.