Concrete pavement more practical than stone

January 30, 2023 | 04:44 pm PT
Trinh Phuong Quan Architect
I live in Palo Alto, California, where almost all the city's pavement is made of concrete blocks connected by grout to avoid cracks.

This is a common sight in not only the U.S. but also in many other countries. Not the most aesthetic decision by city planners, but a very practical and efficient solution, as concrete is always readily available, replaceable, and cheap. Concrete pavements also save a lot of effort in shaping curves in pavement, compared to brick-or-stone-made pavements.

Though concrete is cheap, its life cycle is long. Once laid, concrete pavements require little to no maintenance. This type of pavement also brings many benefits to pedestrians, with better water drainage on rainy days, more friction to prevent people from slipping, and higher durability to handle weight.

With these undeniable benefits, as an architect, I think concrete should also be the main material for pavements in Vietnam, a country currently dominated by brick and stone pavements. Considering the fact that Vietnamese people frequently drive their motorbikes on the sidewalk, I consider this a much more practical option.

Of course, with their aesthetic, brick and stone pavements still have their place in city planning. They should be prioritized only for streets with a high density of pedestrians walking, especially in tourist-dense city centers.

People walk on pavements in HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh

People walk on pavements in HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh

Besides the cost-benefit equation, new methodologies in constructing concrete pavements could also serve an additional benefit in Vietnam, because we're a country lacking fundamental structurization in city planning.

Four years ago, I was a part of a team designing road infrastructure in front of the SJ Campus building in Cleantech Park, Singapore. This included pavements, driving roads, water drainage systems under the driving roads, underground cables, water pipes, and a linkway for pedestrians.

The system we used, which is especially popular in Singapore's suburban and new residential areas, maximizes greenspace and designates a certain area of concrete pavements for pedestrian walking, while reserving a buffer zone for underground technical systems.

The buffer zone for the underground technical system is called a service verge, which above ground is just an area of low-cut grass between the road and the sidewalk pavement. This service verge serves as a buffer area for traffic accidents to ensure pedestrian safety even if a driver accidentally loses control of the vehicle. Additionally, with the service verge, drivers also have a better view of the road ahead to avoid any potential accidents on their side.

With this design, even if the underground systems need to be dug up for replacements, traffic isn't interrupted. Meanwhile, this 3-meter area also serves as a reserved space for future road expansion, potential bus stops, or public bicycle parking spaces.

Next to the service verge is a 2-meter tree planting verge, where the city plants trees with large foliage that helps maximize the canopy of shade for pedestrians while preventing tree roots from damaging the underground system and the pavement.

Finally, the innermost section of construction before the road is a concrete pavement of 1.8 meters over water drainage pipes.

Photo courtesy of Singapore’s Land Transport Authority and National Parks Board

Singapore's standard road structure. Photo courtesy of Singapore’s Land Transport Authority and National Parks Board

This strict design might seem unfeasible in Vietnamese cities with very small sidewalks. Nevertheless, we need to remember that Singapore is one of the smallest countries in the world, yet it has a very advanced infrastructure with very scarce land resources. If it makes sense in Singapore, we could learn a thing or two.

First, we could choose concrete as the material for the majority of our pavements. Practicality should be prioritized for a country with a developing economy, where infrastructures change constantly. Fancy brick and stone pavements should be reserved for only a small number of touristic and central streets to avoid being unnecessarily excessive in our spending.

Second, we need careful research, design, and organization to utilize the efficiency of our pavements. This is not only for pedestrians, but also for the underground systems of gas, electricity, water, etc., which provide the livelihood of the whole city. The better we prepare, the less costly the execution will be.

Third, we can take lessons from developed countries like the U.S., Canada and Singapore, to name just a few. We could learn their designs and try to adapt them to the actual situation in Vietnam.

With the global trend of shifting from private to public transportation means, we should strive to design our cities in a way to facilitate this trend. This includes making our sidewalk pavements less costly and more efficient for pedestrians.

*Trinh Phuong Quan is an architect pursuing a master’s degree at Stanford University in the U.S.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
go to top