The Philadelphia Society of Small Streets (PSSS)

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The Philadelphia Society of Small Streets (PSSS) is dedicated to the preservation, repair, and restoration of Philadelphia's historic small streets. Philadelphia has had a Historic Street District restoration program since 1999 and several streets have been restored (200 block of Jessup and Warnock Streets, the 1300 block of Panama and Cypress Streets, the 2500 block of Panama Street, and many others). However much remains to be done and many residents who live on other historically designated streets have yet to benefit from this program.  We have several issues that we work on with Councilman Mark Squilla, the Streets Department, and the Historical Commission.  Briefly, we would like the city to do the following:

  • Put an end to "Plumbers' Patches" on historic streets. Currently, contractors can fill their trenches on historic streets with asphalt and concrete, which defeats the purpose of the restoration program and leaves behind an unsightly mess that lasts for years, if not decades.  We want contractors to be required to properly reset the street pavers that they excavate.
  • Give priority on first restoring historic streets that are lined with historic homes in the historic districts, starting in Old City and Center City, then radiate outward, rather than select back alleys, new construction, and remote locations, which has occurred in the past.
  • Require developers to restore onsite historic streets as part of their approval process by the city.
  • Use "modified aggregate and screening" for street foundations and filler, not “concrete foundations and mortar”, which presents a myriad of problems for homeowners and their contractors. Historic pavers were originally designed to be picked up and placed back down again.  It made sense then and it makes sense now.
  • Remove the concrete foundation under Camac "The Wood" Street, so that the street can drain properly, plus experiment with more water resistant tree species for the wood blocks.
  • Revise the current construction design of the "Green Streets" program, which uses toxic materials and is of questionable design, including virtual cisterns and thin plastic liners that are destined to leak and impact adjacent buildings
  • For heavy snow storms and small streets, we have suggested for years that residents shovel the street, not the sidewalk


PSSS is a collaborative effort to improve our small streets.  Please feel free to join and use our meetup group ( as a forum to communicate with other members, report information, ask questions, etc.. In order to be on the Philadelphia Historic Street Paving Thematic District (PHSPTD), the street must not be paved over. However, PSSS does not limit our activities to designated streets only. We will support efforts to reclaim paved historic streets, as well. In fact, the Streets Department has indicated that it will consider approving plans to restore asphalted streets if the costs are covered privately.  Below are lots of links and information. Please take the time to review.  We greatly appreciate your participation, comments, and questions. (PSSS postcard for window or distribution) 

visit WOOD STREETS page!

Wood Block Pavement, Wood Streets, Wood Block Pavers, Pavement Types, Pavement History, Wood Streets Philadelphia, Architectural HIstory, Urban History, Curator of Shit

see Blue Streets page!


Lynn and Cliff Landes, founders
The Philadelphia Society of Small Streets (PSSS)

Philadelphia, PA 19107

IMPORTANT PSSS NEWS!   May 13, 2015 - PSSS Suggested Restoration Priority List January 21, 2016: PSSS Letter To Mayor Kenney re: snow removal on small streets January 18, 2016:  PSSS Letter to Mayor Kenney re: Philadelphia's Historic Restoration Program June 5, 2015:  PSSS Letter to Mayor Nutter re: Philip Street and the Historic Streets Restoration Program Philip Street Residents' letters to Mayor Nutter & other city officials How much has Philip Street sunk? Allowing for a 4 inch curb, the street and curb on the east side has sunk from 8-12 inches (along with 50% of sidewalk), depending on the location. About 75% of the street appears to be affected, starting at the manhole cover at north end. June 4, 2015:  Urgent: Need to push restoration of Philip Street!  (send letters to city and press contacts below) May 16, 2015: Letter to residents of historic streets on PSSS Priority List May 13, 2015 - PSSS Response - PSSS Suggested Restoration Priority List April 29, 2015:  Street Department's Top Ten Streets featuring Google "Street Views" January 5, 1505 - The Historic Streets Assessment Report (very disappointing) October 2010 -  JessupStreetReport.pdf  - An October 2010 study by Milner + Carr Conservation, LLC, that Cliff and Lynn Landes commissioned prior to Jessup Street's restoration by the Streets Department.  It contains a brief, but interesting history of street paving in Philadelphia.

CITY OFFICIALS:  What can you do now to make sure our historic streets are properly maintained? Support the proposals below. E-mail your city officials and suggest the following changes to city policy:   (Mayor of Philadelphia)  (Chair of Streets Committee on City Council)  (Deputy Streets Commissioner, Streets Department  (Executive Director of Philadelphia Historical Commission)
your council member -


1. RESTORATION PRIORITY: May 13, 2015 - PSSS Suggested Restoration Priority List

  • Place priority on (the city) first restoring historic streets that are lined with historic homes in the historic districts starting in Old City and Center City, then radiate outward, rather than select back alleys, new construction, and remote locations (which occurred as the result of a 2014 survey).  
  • Developers should be required to restore onsite historic streets as part of the approval process by the city


  • The Streets Department should adopt something similar to the Netherland's model (see of 15 inches of pulverized concrete (although we prefer "modified aggregate") and on top, 2-6 inches of sand of good quality, not like the sand on a beach, (we prefer "screening"), rather than the Streets Dept current standard of an 8-12 inch concrete base and mortar.
  • The spacing between the bricks and stones should be tightly set, and in some cases, stone pavers should be ground smooth in order to make walking and biking safe and easy. 

The case AGAINST the Streets Department's current "concrete foundation & mortar" requirement for historic streets, includes the following:

  • a concrete foundation makes it extremely difficult to access underground utilities and can cause damage by vibration to nearby underground utilities, adjacent buildings, and historic structures during removal by jackhammer, backhoes, etc.
  • after excavation, concrete chunks generally get thrown back into plumbers ditches, thereby creating future subsidence problems
  • concrete conceals any "subsidence" issues until they become catastrophic
  • it prevents road surface permeability for rainwater
  • creates wet conditions, particularly harmful for wood and brick pavers, as well as stone
  • directs water toward buildings and basements
  • increases storm water run-off
  • mortar between pavers, rather than tightly-fitted pavers, can make walking or biking over them very difficult
  • Camac Street, The Wood Street, between Walnut and Locust is completely rotting away due to concrete foundation under a sand layer, as well as the type of wood.  Black locust, Osage Orange, or another water-tolerant species of tree should be used or at least experimented with.  See our special Wood Streets webpage

The case FOR a general transition for many city streets and sidewalks to PAVERS & AGGREGATE foundation (Netherland's model) from PAVEMENT & CONCRETE foundation: 

  • tightly-fitted pavers makes walking or biking a safer experience
  • pavers can serve as a vital "early warning system" for dangerous subsidence issues below that can contribute to wet basements and collapsed streets and sidewalks
  • paver-streets and sidewalks can be easily repaired when foundation is aggregate and not solid concrete or asphalt
  • asphalt is toxic and cannot be repaired without looking like a patch-work quilt
  • asphalt and concrete cannot be repaired without looking like a patch-work quilt
  • example of paver-street construction, at least on the surface:

Concerns about "The Green Street "program - see video  We found important details about the Percy Street project in this article,, which states,  "their (new) block contains eight inches of porous asphalt, a material that will allow rain to seep through the pavement to soak into a nearly 30-inch layer of stone... (and then) line the curb with an impermeable plastic liner to prevent water from migrating back toward houses uses...".

  • asphalt is a toxic material and not "green" in any meaningful sense -
  • asphalt also presents many of the same problems presented by concrete - see above
  • The Percy Street model creates a cistern under the streets, using clean stones and lined on either side of the road with plastic, that they claim will protect nearby basements from water damage.  However, we are concern that it is a fatally flawed design concept.  Typically plastic liners, even landfill liners, are only 1/10 of an inch thick and are vulnerable to cracking and breaking due to heat and cold, wear and tear. Our preliminary research shows that buried "impermeable" plastic liners only last from 15-20 years. Not good news for homeowners. 
  • according to the video above, the Percy Street model seems to discourage use of trees on small streets
  • Pete Riley, Design Unit, Philadelphia Water Department may be a good person to contact for addition information

3. PLUMBERS PATCHES:  These are an unnecessary waste of the city's time, money, and effort.  Historic pavers are designed to be picked up and placed back down again. Currently, contractors can fill their ditches on historic streets with asphalt, leaving behind an unsafe and unsightly mess for the city to clean up. Contractors who dig into city streets should be required to put the street back as they found it (historic or not).  This is more easily done on historic streets if contractors don't have to drill through a concrete foundation.

UPDATE 1/15/16 (Unfortunately, the following program still allows for plumbers patches).  MAY 2014: GOOD NEWS! One of our main goals is to stop unsightly "plumbers patches". A pilot program to allow homeowners to contract historic street restorations through their plumbing contractors will run from July to December 2014.  Residents will save $450 on their permits. Previously, plumbers felt that they had to pour an asphalt or concrete patch. Homeowners had to wait years for the city to get around to restoring the patch, which rarely occurred. Now, homeowners have the option to contract for the restoration work to be done immediately.  So, congratulations to everyone. We think that this is a good first step toward putting an end to unsightly "plumbers patches", and it wouldn't have happened without your support. Thank you!  Now we need to put an end to plumbers patches permanently.  They are blighting our community and wasting taxpayers dollars. What's the point of restoring a historic street if the very next week a contractor can pour a plumbers patch, as happened with the newly restored 200 block of Warnock Street in 2012!

4. SNOW REMOVAL AND CITY CODE: 2016 PSSS emails to Mayor Kenney -

For heavy snow storms and small streets - SHOVEL THE STREET, NOT THE SIDEWALK! We first shovel the street and a path to our door, then do the sidewalk - if there's room to put the snow.  That's what we do on our street, but it's in violation of city code.  Logistically, for small streets (6.5 feet) it’s the same amount of area to be shoveled. Even for streets that are 12 feet wide, residents also have to shovel out their cars, so it still comes to about the same area. Also, don't forget to clear debris from your sidewalks, curbs, and particularly storm drain grates before any major snow or rain event.  Otherwise you risk flooding your street.

Right way (left) and wrong way (right), See all 16 PHOTOS (2014 winter) on our meetup page -  


(We have expressed our concerns about this situation to the Streets Department for several years now. See: 2010 Philadelphia Inquirer article:

This is a matter of health and safety.  We must have a timely way to allow for vehicle and pedestrian traffic on our small streets after a snow event, therefore:

For property owners on small streets measuring approximately 6.5 feet wide, we ask that the CITY CODE be amended to direct those property owners to shovel snow from their half of the street (to the center line, approximately 3 1/4 feet) in front of their house, plus a 3 foot wide path to their doors. Currently, all property owners are required to shovel a 3 foot path on their sidewalk.

The advantages of the PSSS suggested method:

• requires minimal additional effort on the part of property owners
• frees up the sidewalk to hold the cleared snow, particularly critical to small streets in heavy snow events
• gives property owners the responsibility to clear the snow in a time manner, thereby allowing for foot & car traffic, and the disabled
• saves tax dollars by relieving the Streets Department of the responsibility of clearing snow from hundreds of small streets (6.5' wide)

Disadvantages of current City Code for small streets:

• City Code is contradictory and unworkable for heavy snow conditions. Residents are required not only to clear a 36-inch path of snow from their sidewalks, but also not put any snow into the street. For small streets and big snow events, this is an impossible requirement to comply with, offering no place to hold the snow.
• Most residents put priority of removing the snow from their sidewalks, and throw the snow into the streets, thereby blocking their streets with several feet of snow and creating a safety and fire hazard.  

February 2015:  Recently, we were told by the Streets Department that it is too difficult to change the City Code, but that residents of small streets will not be ticketed if our sidewalks are not cleared. Unfortunately, this policy leaves 'both our sidewalks and streets clogged with snow' until City snow removal equipment arrives, which it often doesn't. At least for the sake of the disabled and pedestrian traffic, small street residents should be subject to the same snow removal requirements as other city property owners.  We are just asking for a different location - instead of shoveling the sidewalk, shovel the street.  The area to be cleared is almost exactly the same.

Please contact Councilman Squilla and Commissioner Carlton and ask that the City Code be amended as we suggest above.  (Chair of Streets Committee on City Council)  (Streets Commissioner, Streets Department

Jan 2015:  Snow, salt, streets, and electrocuting dogs:  This is slightly off-topic. There was a problem last year with dogs getting electrocuted, mainly at some cross walks.  It appears that the snow/water/ice and salt combined with underground electric current, causes dogs to get electrocuted.  People with rubber shoes don't feel it, usually.  We and several others called PECO and Streets.  Supposedly, the problem was fixed.  However, we can still detect current with our EMF monitor, so we'll see. (Jan 2015)


  • Historic curbs conservation: Currently, the Historical Commission only has control over the flat surface of these historic streets. Historic curbs should be protected as they are integral to the structural design of historic streets.
  • Accidental paving: The Streets Department should check first with the Historical Commission that a street is not designated part of the historic cartway before crews pave it.
  • Private financing: There should be an official protocol in place for residents to contract out to reclaim their streets with either their own funds or through grants. At the current rate of repair, it will be 70 years before all the streets are fixed. April 2014:Good news!  The Streets Department has indicated that it will consider allowing private financing, although an official policy is not yet in place. Residents should contact the Streets Commissioner directly if their want to pursue this course of action.
  • Public information: April 2014: Good news! The PHC has put more information online (see Gov't Doc Links at top), although we (PSSS) still have links to more information that the PHC, such as a map of the historic streets.
  • Public meetings and input: This should be standard practice. Public meetings should take place in a timely manner on which streets get restored, how, and in what order. April 2014:  Good news! Last year (2013) the Streets Department did contract out a survey of all the historic streets.  And in April the Streets Department met with our organization.  It was a very satisfying experience.  More work to do, of course...
  • Resident crews: The Streets Department should consider certifying residents to do their own minor street repairs.
  • Weight limit: There should be a posted signs with a weight limit for heavy vehicles.

PHILLY GOV'T LINKS: (Unfortunately, there is not one repository for information about Philadelphia's historically certified streets, as the Historical Commission and the Streets Department post some, but not all the resources available.)


Please write a letter and gather signatures from your neighbors and send them to the list of government officials above. Send a hard copy to the same people. Also, get residents to write their own personal letters. You need to make a strong case. The Streets Department likes to restore these streets in clusters. So, it is a good idea to suggest other nearby streets for restoration at the same time. Point out things like the streets' unsafe condition, how often people visit, how many people live on these streets, and the streets location near other tourist attractions. Also, provide photos and measurements of streets to be restored. The petition could read something like the following: "The Philadelphia residents below respectfully request that the Philadelphia Historical Commission and Streets Department restore the following streets through the special annual fund allocated for this purpose."  Although, the City has a dedicated fund of $100,000 + per year to repair streets, you can also look into additional fundraising and the letting of private contracts, as well as applying for grants through organizations, such as The Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia.  You can also contact PSSS and we will assist you.  Our contact information is at bottom of this page.


In our experience (the 2012 Jessup / Cypress / Panama / Warnock Streets restoration), where the contractor needed to remove bricks and sidewalks in order to restore the street, the contractor also put them back, at no expense to the homeowner.  That is clearly the situation on Philip Street.  The collapse of the street has caused the collapse of the sidewalk.  However, if the sidewalks and curbs (including driveway "curb-cuts") were already in bad shape, and not caused by the street, then the homeowner 'could' (not necessarily 'would') get charged for any repairs made by the contractor.  In 2012, at first the Streets Department said that residents needed to hire their own contractors.  But then they relented, in that the logistics and logic of the situation called for the on-site contractor to make any additional repairs individual property owners would require.  We can't give any guarantees that this will be the policy going forward, but that was our experience.


If you have a safety hazard, you should immediately notify the Streets Department - or call 3-1-1 (215-686-8686) Save the reference number if you need to follow-up. Always state on the form if your street is historically designated, part of the Philadelphia Historic Street Paving Thematic District, and therefore asphalt should not be used.  An inspector will be sent out.  Often the Water Department needs to get involved.  Follow up with them at - using the General Inquiries number (215-685-6300) and speak with a representative, who should also give you a tracking number.  Other utilities might also get involved.  Just keep following up with the various entities until the complaint is fixed. Tenacity is often required.  You can also contact PSSS and we will assist you.  Our contact information is at bottom of this page.

A Brief History of: Commercial Old City ... Small Streets by Carol Moore

NEWS!  Plan Philly articles: They are doing a pretty good job of covering Philadelphia's small streets.


Various construction examples:

  • Netherlands: TigerStone (paver installation company). From a Tiger-Stone representative, "In the Netherlands we use 15 inches of concrete debris ( pulverized concrete) and on top 2 to 6 inches of sand ( of good quality, not like the sand on a beach…) In a lot of countries the use stabilized sand, this is a mixture with cement. The most important is that the base construction is solid so in the long term the road quality can be guarantied. We use sand on the last few inches because the ‘’old’’ stones are not likely to al have the same dimensions. The sand does have the compacted with a compacting plate before paving the stones."
  • Portland, Oregon: Streets are excavated to full depth, about 13 to 18 inches below top of curb. Drainage geotextile fabric is placed on the ground surface, and a layer of 2”-minus rock drainage blanket 6-10 inches deep is laid on top of the fabric and compacted. ... The permeable pavers are then installed on the leveling bed. The space between paving blocks is filled with the fine rock, and rock and pavers are compacted. (We don't agree with using geotextile fabric as it interferes with excavation for repairs, and also interferes with subsidence, which acts as an early warning system for the formation of catastrophic sinkholes.)
  • From Davenport, Iowa: "We generally use six inches of 95% proctor compacted ¾” down (with fines) crushed stone material for the base, with about 1” of sand on top of that. We vibrate the bricks into the sand, then sweep more sand over the top and vibrate again to get the sand to fill the gaps between the bricks. On hills we mix in 1 part mortar to 3 parts sand to prevent the sand mixture from washing away."
  • From Willmette, Illinois: "This work shall consist of removing existing bricks in streets at various locations determined by the ENGINEER; removal of the existing deteriorated stone base to a depth of 6 inches, placement of a new 6 inch CA 6 base (CA is crushed aggregate), a 1 inch sand layer and replacement of the bricks."
    • Brick Pavement Repairs, 6 inch Stone Base: used for brick repairs , with settlement
    • Brick Pavement Repairs, 13 inch Stone Base: used for brick repairs , with a lot of settlement


200 block of Jessup Street, Philadelphia:  Historic Assessment and Recommendation Report: October 2010, 200 block of South Jessup Street by Milner + Carr ConservationJessup Street was restored in 2012.  The results of the work done was somewhat predictable, as the Streets Department insisted on laying a concrete base against the report's recommendation of modified aggregate for the foundation. In general the restored streets by contractor Spaventa & Sons, look great (200 blocks of Jessup and Warnock, 1300 blocks of Cypress and Panama). However, the mortar between the bricks is crumbling in some places, the streets are not porous and are therefore holding water, and the Belgium blocks are placed too far apart for safe and comfortable walking and riding (in cars or on bikes). On Jessup Street there is a new crack straight across the road just next to our house (217), breaking one of our old granite gutter stone in half. We believe that the crack is the result of the concrete being laid in one continuous stretch and encompassing all the street elements, not allowing for any breaks and therefore no 'give'. That said, the restored historic streets look really good.

Washington Place, Troy, NY:

O & P Streets, Georgetown, DC:


Small Streets
Phil LaCombe, Director and Co-Founder
mobile: 413.648.7445

Paul Daniel Marriott & Associates
3140 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Suite 804
Washington, DC 20016

Links and information for maintenance and construction:

Contractors for restoring sidewalks and streets as recommended by PSSS members:

  • Artistic Masonry 610-931-1375
  • Daniel Monroy 215 888 8471

PRESS LINKS:(for information and comments you may want to send) / (Channel 10)
Channel 6 – text 1-866-639-7749 and 

Lynn and Cliff Landes, founders
The Philadelphia Society of Small Streets (PSSS)

217 S. Jessup Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107