Philadelphia Society of Small Streets (PSSS) JOIN OUR MEETUP for latest news & events PSSS NEWS & LETTERS EMAIL US:  We're looking for highway engineers who will support 'modified aggregate' foundations vs concrete.




  CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO PETITION to PHC Postpone July 12th PHC Meeting On Wash West Historic Designation Until September. Please sign by July 8th!

 You may also want to Sign the Petition, a very well written and detailed account from attorney and Wash West resident Josh Zugerman.  Here’s the direct link(

WASH WEST HISTORIC DESIGNATION (link):  Learn about the Philadelphia Historical Commission's Proposed Designation of the Washington Square West area buildings. This is not an issue that we normally address, but since it affects our neighborhood we decided to make this website available to inform others.

The Philadelphia Society of Small Streets (PSSS) is a collaborative effort to improve our small historic streets.  Philadelphia has had a historic street district restoration program (Philadelphia Historic Street Paving Thematic District) since 1999, but thus far only 12 small streets have been restored. That is an extremely small number considering that there are over 200 streets on the restoration list. As a result, some of Philadelphia's small historically designated streets are now very unsafe streets for pedestrians and vehicles alike. 

In particular, PSSS has asked city officials to restore the following streets due to their historic importance and popularity, yet clearly “unsafe” condition:

- 200 block of S. Quince Street
- 2400 block of Panama Street
- 200 block of S. Hutchinson Street, plus intersecting Manning Street and Bonaparte Court

The harsh reality is, the Streets Department is choosing not to restore historic streets because they are more costly to resurface than asphalt streets. That fact will never change, so what does it mean for the future of the program?  We should point out that restoring historic streets does not have to be as expensive as it is. Much of the increased cost is because the Streets Department requires an 8-12" concrete foundation under these historic cartways, something that PSSS has opposed for a variety of reasons (see below). State funds have been made available for the restoration of large historic streets, but not Philadelphia's small streets.

Under the present circumstances, our advice to residents is to organize your own campaign to restore your street: call, email, write lots of letters, do petitions, and ask for meetings with the list of government officials below.  We will assist you as much as possible. However, it is up to you to be persistent in the pursuit of the restoration of your own small historic streets. 

Historic Street Foundations: We have serious objections to the manner in which these historic streets are restored, particularly the use of concrete foundations. (also see: JessupStreet ReportHistoric streets were originally designed to be easy to repair, in that street crews could picked up the pavers, do the repairs, and place the pavers back down again. However, in modern times the city began requiring several inches of concrete under our historic streets, which has caused a myriad of serious problems: 1) Concrete foundations require the use of jackhammers when underground plumbing and other utilities need to be replaced, which can result in damage to nearby homes and buildings, both historic and modern. 2) Concrete foundations obscure natural subsidence, which has resulted in catastrophic collapses. 3) Concrete foundations prevent permeability, increasing storm water run-off, and encourage mosquito infestations, plus cause structural damage to the street components, such as  gutter stones, due to the lack of "give" in the street or flexibility and other issues. Instead, City code should require "modified aggregate and screening" for street foundations and filler, as they do in Europe and other places (see Preferred Construction Design) , not “concrete foundations and mortar”, which presents a myriad of serious problems for homeowners and their contractors. (see:The Case Against Concrete Foundations)


Mayor Cherelle Parker   (Mayor of Philadelphia)   (Chair of Streets Committee on City Council)  (Streets Commissioner)  (Chief Engineer, Historic Streets)  (Executive Director of Philadelphia Historical Commission)

We have several "historic street" issues that we work on with Councilman Mark Squilla (former Chair of the Street Committee), the Streets Department, and the Historical Commission. See SUMMARY below.  In order to be on the list for the Philadelphia Historic Street Paving Thematic District, the street must not be paved over. Here is also a map of the historic streets. 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. The more people get involved, the more we can accomplish.

Lynn and Cliff Landes, Founders
The Philadelphia Society of Small Streets (PSSS)  / 215-629-3553 "RESTORED" HISTORIC STREET LIST: since 1999

  • Camac Street (200 block, has been restored at least twice, now asphalted pending another restoration)

  • N. Water Street, off of Callowhill (date uncertain)

  • Panama Street, 2500 block (2010 or 2011)

  • Jessup Street, 200 block (2012)

  • Warnock Street, 200 block (2012)

  • Panama Street, 1200 block (2012)

  • Cypress Street, 1200 block (2012)

  • American Street, 300 block (2017)

  • Philip Street, 300 block (2018)

  • Thomas Paine Place, 200 block, 2022?

  • need confirmation on:

    • Fulton Street, 200 block

    • Chancellor Street, 1200 block

    • St. James Streets, 1200 block SUMMARY OF THINGS THAT NEED TO BE DONE!  Briefly, we would like the Philadelphia Streets Department to do the following:

  • FOUNDATIONS: Historic pavers were originally designed to be picked up and placed back down again.  It made sense then and it makes sense now. City code should require "modified aggregate and screening" for street foundations and filler, not “concrete foundations and mortar”, which presents a myriad of serious problems for homeowners and their contractors:
    • Concrete foundations require the use of jackhammers when underground plumbing needs to be replaced, which can result in damage to nearby homes and buildings, historic and modern.
    • Concrete foundations obscures natural subsidence, which has resulted in catastrophic collapses.
    • Important details below
  • RESTORATION PRIORITY LIST: 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. (PSSS Suggested Restoration Priority Street List Report)
    • Quince Street, 200 block
    • Panama Street, 2400 block
    • Hutchinson Street cluster, 200 block, plus intersecting Bonaparte Court & Manning Street
  • PLUMBERS' PATCHES: Put an end to "Plumbers' Patches" on historic streets- SEE PHOTOS. 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 & promptly reset the street pavers that they excavate.
  • DEVELOPERS: Require developers to restore onsite or adjacent historic streets as part of their approval process by the city.
  • SIDEWALK GRADIENT (i.e, slope): The restoration of historic streets should include in the bid contract a requirement that all sidewalk gradients be in compliance with Street Department standard of 1/4 inch slope per foot, and if such is not the case, curbs should be reset to be in compliance with that standard.
  • SPACING, SMOOTHNESS, & ADA COMPLIANCE: 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, and to be compliant with The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). See NYC Historic Districts Council shares these concerns in a report:
  • CAMAC "THE WOOD" STREET:  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, such as Black Locust or Osage Orange, and a local Cedar or Cypress. See
  • GREEN STREETS PROGRAM:  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
  • SNOW REMOVAL:  For heavy snow storms and small streets, we have suggested for years that the City Code be modified to instruct residents to shovel the street and a path to the front door, not the sidewalk. So far, no luck with City Hall on this matter. People still shovel the snow into the small streets blocking the way for cars, trucks, and emergency vehicles. 
  • WEEDING: Use 5% undiluted household vinegar, not toxic herbicides.


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

visit Blue Streets page!



1. RESTORATION PRIORITY LIST: Also see May 13, 2015 - PSSS Suggested Restoration Priority Street List

  • Location: Begin restorations with in the center of the city and its historic districts and then radiate outwards.
  • Context: Select streets that are lined with historic homes, not back alleys, side streets, and new construction.
  • Condition: Target streets that are in urgent need of repair and restoration.
  • Logistics: Restore streets in geographic clusters when at all possible.


Modified aggregate topped with sand then pavers (see Case Against ConcreteJessup Street Report: Condition Assessment And Recommendations by Milner + Carr Conservation, LLC, Philadelphia, PA (Oct 2010) Currently, the Streets Department is using 8-12 inches of concrete as a base. We have strongly urged them to use something similar to the Netherland's model (see of the following:

·      NETHERLAND'S ROAD FOUNDATION: 15 inches of pulverized concrete (although we prefer "modified aggregate"), 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 emphasis in the email using highlighting, underlining, and bold print is ours) See Tiger-Stone's email to us.

·     SPACING, SMOOTHNESS, & ADA COMPLIANCE: 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, and to be compliant with The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). See NYC Historic Districts Council shares these concerns in a report  and NYT article: or (doc)

·     SIDEWALK GRADIENT (i.e, slope): The restoration of historic streets should include in the bid contract a requirement that all sidewalk gradients be in compliance with Street Department standard of 1/4 inch per foot, and if such is not the case, curbs should be reset to be in compliance with that standard.

SEE PHOTOS: 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. HISTORIC CURB 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.

5. SIDEWALK RESTORATION:  We strongly advise residents with substandard or concrete sidewalks to consider restoring them with historic brick.  We and four of our neighbors did that in 2012 when our street was restored and it has made the street look beautiful and very historically authentic.  We got our bricks from   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.

6. WEED STREETS SAFELY!  The best thing to do is to use a watering can to saturate the plant matter with 5% undiluted household vinegar that you can purchase at many grocery stores.  Apply in the evening when there is no prediction of rain for a few days.  It takes about 3-5 days to see the final results.  Re-apply as necessary. Most commercial herbicides are toxic to people and the planet. 

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

Although the Streets Department directs property owners to shovel snow from their sidewalks, 6.5 wide streets are allowed to do things differently.  Please read below our advice for snow removal. This is a HEALTH & SAFETY issue, as emergency vehicles must be able to access our small streets! 

For heavy snow storms and small approximately 6-7 foot wide 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.  Although it's in violation of city code, the Streets Department says that it is okay for streets that are 6-7 feet wide.  Logistically, it’s about 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 emergency vehicles, residents' vehicles, 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 Mark Squilla and Streets Commissioner Keith Warren and ask that the City Code be amended as we suggest above.  (Chair of Streets Committee on City Council) (Streets Commissioner)

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)

LASTLY, just wanted to add that we use a floor-grade squeegee, like the one below, to remove snow from our street and sidewalk.  It works great!


  • 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.

The case AGAINST "concrete foundation & mortar" and FOR “modified aggregate and screening”:







Structural risks from vibration:  makes it extremely difficult to access underground utilities for repair or installation, plus jackhammers and other heavy equipment can cause damage by vibration to nearby underground utilities, adjacent buildings, and historic structures.

pavers, aggregate, and screening can be easily removed and reset by hand or using light equipment


Creating future problems: after spot excavation work is complete, concrete chunks usually get thrown back into plumbers ditches by the contractor, thereby creating future subsidence problems

aggregate is easy to remove and put back in place

Concealing problems: concrete conceals any "subsidence" issues beneath the pavers until they become catastrophic

pavers serve as a vital "early warning system" for dangerous subsidence issues below, as they slowly begin to collapse into any hole developing under the street or sidewalk due to leaks in plumbing or other causes

Pedestrian unfriendly: mortar, of the required ¼ to ½ inch-span between pavers, can make walking or biking over pavers very difficult - as in reality it is often 1inch or more.

tightly-fitted pavers with minimal screening between them makes walking or biking a safer experience

Esthetics:  concrete and mortar cannot be repaired without looking like a patch-work quilt, as the visual difference between old and new mortar will be obvious and unsightly

simply lifting up and resetting pavers, properly, will leave no evidence of a repair






None: prevents any road surface permeability for rainwater, thus increases storm water run-off and icy conditions in the winter

allows for slow permeability which keeps streets drier and safer in icy conditions, although storm drains are still necessary for stormwater runoff

Creates drainage problems: creates a subsurface barrier that would trap rain water between the road and  adjacent buildings, resulting in wet basements

 allows for slow permeability

Damages pavers:  creates a wet environment which is particularly harmful for wood and brick pavers, as well as stone.  Camac Street, The Wood Street, between Walnut and Locust completely rotted 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. 

 creates a dry environment which better protects pavers

Increases Health & Safety concerns:  creates conditions that breed MOSQUITOES

allows slow permeability worsens conditions for mosquitoes




  • 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."
  • 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
  • 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. (Lynn Landes:  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.)


"The Green Street "program:



  • 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


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


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:

  • Olivieri and Associates Inc. (Philip Street restoration contractors, 2018)
  • Spaventa & Sons ( (Jessup, Warnock, Panama, and Cypress Streets, 2012)
  • Artistic Masonry 610-931-1375
  • Daniel Monroy 215 888 8471

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.)

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

217 S. Jessup Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107