Curb Appeal


For the past month and a half there’s been a spate of construction workers digging up the corners of every intersection in Somerville in Cambridge. At first I thought it was part of a city beautiful program to repoint all the intersections. It turns out that they’re actually installing curb cuts for handicap access with nifty rubber no-slip thingies perhaps as part of a crosswalk safety improvement program.

Several years ago, a geologist friend of ours came to live in Boston (for what turned out to be a short stay). He pointed out with amazement that all the curbs in the Boston area are made of stone. I guess because I grew up in New England I took stone curbs for granite — er, granted — but once he pointed them out I couldn’t help noticing them. It’s true too, miles and miles of stone line our streets and sidewalks whereas in other parts of the country the curbs are made of concrete.

The amazing revelation of this public works project is just how <i>deep</i> the curbs go. When the corners are excavated I can see the stone going down 2-3 feet into the ground. What we see on the street is just the tip of the iceberg so to speak. I wonder just how much stone is holding back the streets from the sidewalks. Not only that, but I wonder just how long the curbs have been in place. The streets and the sidewalks are repaved regularly (albeit not often enough in some cases), but the curbs appear to be hardy enough to withstand snow & ice, errant SUV drivers, and road improvement programs across generations.

The public works department curb cutters came to our neighborhood recently so I took some photos of the curbs. Had I any foresight I would have put a ruler or something to provide the perspective that is sorely lacking in these pictures.

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