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Let's Talk About Brick Streets

Let's Talk About Brick Streets

by Chris Petry

A couple of nights ago, after violently tossing and turning in a heat-induced delirium on an uncharacteristically sweltering November night, I shot up from my bed like a bolt of lightning. “What happened to brick streets,” I cried to the heavens. All joking aside, hear me out. Bricks are among the oldest and most reliable building materials available today. The earliest known bricks were primarily composed of heated and meticulously-shaped mud from the bank of the Tigris River in 4000 B.C. Mesopotamia. So, for over 6,000 years now, humans have been using bricks to build private dwellings, public service structures, retaining walls, and roads. So, where’s all the brick today?
One of life’s more understated joys has to be the experience of walking between shops, pubs, and restaurants on a brick-lined street. A few years ago, when city officials proposed paving Exeter Road in Cleveland Heights, the citizens rallied together to oppose it. The reasons given? One, brick streets seem to promote safer driving. People are less likely to speed on imperfect surfaces. Next, they cited the need for historical preservation. Many believe brick streets are aesthetically superior to gray sparsley-patched asphalt. Hard to argue with that!
There’s another reason to champion bricks that the Georgia Department of Transportation knows all too well. In 2015, over six miles of asphalt streets near Turner Field in Atlanta were gutted and replaced with good old red brick. Why? Turns out bricks allow for better drainage, reducing the likelihood of serious flooding.
So, if brick streets are better looking, less likely to flood, and force drivers to navigate suburban areas with more caution, why is asphalt the gold standard of public streets and private driveway projects nationwide? Well, like most things, it seems the economic impact of asphalt is the deciding factor in the majority of cases. Asphalt’s just cheaper to lay, maintain, and repair.
If you’ve ever tried installing a brick wall in your home to fit your rustic or industrial design choice, you know that a certain level of finesse is required to get it just right. Now imagine the scale of a public service project involving brick. Expert brick layers must be hired, the project will require significantly more time to complete, and the manufacture of the bricks themselves can inflate budgets well above the asphalt alternative.  
Neglected brick surfaces can also become hazardous for brisk but oblivious pedestrians. While they might slow down the hurried Metallica-blasting Jaguar barreling down your one-way residential street, sudden dips in the brick-lined street can catch even the most attentive of motorists off guard. This can result in damage to tires and rims. Or in the winter, when surfaces are icy, other people’s cars and residential property.
Back on the positive side: brick homes, I think we can all agree, have a special charm that few other materials can match. Plus, they’re extremely durable. When’s the last time you had to swap out rotted or termite-damaged brick? They also provide greater protection in the event of a fire. After all, the molecular structure of the brick is the result of a super-heating and cooling process. Another bonus? Brick homes appreciate at a much-faster rate than wooden and cement sided homes. That’s good for your resell value.
To further sell the value of bricks, the modern process by which bricks are molded, and the refinement of the materials uses, has resulted in more durable and weather-resistant product than what the ancient Mesopotamians were capable of.
Wrapping things up, there are pluses and minuses to the prevalence of brick in construction projects of all types. If your concerns are primarily financial, concrete and asphalt will get the job done. For old-timey charm, improved vehicular safety, flood and fire-prevention, brick is the way to go. Personally, I now sleep much better at night knowing that while less common, brick is by no means on the verge of extinction. In fact, it’s proven to be very useful in certain types of building jobs, even here in the 21st century. Let’s just pay better attention when we’re walking or driving on them. It would be a shame if they were all covered in lifeless asphalt.