Great Expectations

Winter 2013

Creating the new normal, paver by paver

By David Smith


Great Expectations

Building systems and pavement systems must become institutionalized before they are fully embraced by designers, owners, and users. We’re not talking about the institutionalization of people into wards of the state, but rather, how building technologies become normal and expected in a society. In order for building systems to achieve that level of expectation in a culture, the institutionalization process begins with the manufacturing industry of that particular building or pavement system.

Components of the Process:

  • Standard product specifications (i.e., ASTM/CSA), design and construction criteria
  • Research to expand applications and define limits—this can be materials testing or testing the performance of systems and assemblies
  • Construction training for qualified labor
  • University education for young and emerging design professionals
  • Manufacturing quality control and quality assurance certification
  • Marketing via advertising, public relations, brochures, trade shows, continuing education presentations, and websites to communicate system features, advantages and benefits


Most of the pavement owned by public agencies and private corporations is asphalt or concrete. Institutionalization of these pavements began about a century ago and continues today. We expect these pavements in our culture. They are in our mental as well as our physical landscape. We’d like to see similar expectations develop for segmental concrete pavement here in North America. Segmental concrete pavement is already expected and used extensively in many other countries, such as the Netherlands and Germany.

As pavement owners, federal, provincial, state and local governments annually invest billions of dollars in construction, ownership, and maintenance. Industry and academia conduct research and train young designers as investment momentum builds. This process is a key characteristic of a mature and fully institutionalized pavement technology, where pavement owners take over the reigns from industry to see through the final stage of institutionalization.

Permeable pavement is experiencing this transition now, thanks to tougher stormwater runoff regulations. Since the late 1990s, pervious concrete, porous asphalt, and permeable interlocking concrete pavement (PICP) have seen millions invested in university research, construction, and performance evaluations. The industries representing these pavements started the process, and some stormwater agencies are continuing it.

Though much polluted runoff comes directly from roads, transportation agencies have been slower to accept permeable pavement as the norm for low-speed pavements. That’s because permeable pavement must follow the same institutionalization path as conventional pavement types, and transportation agency gatekeepers demand it. Their path is more technically demanding than that required for acceptance by stormwater management agencies because of concerns about structural support, safety, and durability, among others.

The additional research required to address these concerns leads to transportation agency ownership of the institutionalization process.

When a sufficient number of transportation agencies embrace permeable pavement, their energy and funding will accelerate the institutionalization process. We are already seeing small signs of this in the works. Federal and state regulatory forces gathering behind the scenes are pushing transportation agencies from vague interest into needing permeable pavements. When that happens, agency ownership of the institutionalization advances. This eventually leads to our society expecting permeable pavement—and that is a great expectation.