Paradise Unpaved

by Franke James

illustration by franke james of green driveway and garden

illustration by franke james of neighbor in yellow shirt illustration by franke james of news story photos and illustrations by franke james of weights, lightbulb, footprint, suv photo and illustration by franke james of flowers and suv  illustration by franke james of city official  Alice in wonderland illustration by franke james; inspired by John Tenniel  record of media coverage by franke james permit process by franke james bobcat and dirt photos by franke james workers photo by franke and bill james workers photo by franke and bill james before photo by franke james of permaturf green driveway planting photo by franke james planting photos, top by lucas oleniuk licensed from the toronto star, bottom by bill james after photo by franke james of permaturf green driveway garden photo by franke james  garden photo by franke james illustration by franke james illustration by franke james calculation of runoff on interlock versus green driveway by franke james


Paradise Unpaved copyright 2008, Franke James, MFA

Photographs, illustrations and writing by Franke James, MFA except where noted.

Alice in Wonderland drawing by Franke James, was inspired by illustrator John Tenniel’s 1865 drawing, “She was now more than nine feet high!”

Franke James with shovel photo by Michael Stuparyk, Toronto Star, under license from Torstar

Seeding Photo of Franke James by Lucas Oleniuk, Toronto Star, under license from Torstar

Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell, excerpt of lyrics.

Many thanks to Joan Chadde, author of Understanding the Ecological Impacts of Changing Land Uses published in the Spring 2008 issue of Green Teacher, and her colleague Dr. Alex Mayer, a hydrologist in the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering & Sciences at Michigan Technological University, for their kind assistance with the stormwater calculations.

Articles and Media:
The Green Driveway Articles detail the building of our green driveway step-by-step, including the materials used.
Eco-friendly driveway is rejected by the city Paul Moloney, Toronto Star,
May 5, 2007 Interview by Melissa Grelo, CITY TV, May 6, 2007
Don’t Rip Up Your Driveway in North York, Lloyd Alter,, May 8, 2007 Franke James wants a green driveway, city says no.
Martin Edic, Burnertrouble May, 2007 Resources: Stormwater Runoff: Understanding the Ecological Impacts of Changing Land Uses by Joan Chadde, Michigan Technological University, Green Teacher Magazine Issue Spring 2008
Toronto Homeowner’s Guide to Rainfall: Riversides 2008 report: Urban Runoff Excellent backgrounder on stormwater runoff and the economic cost of it to the city. Riversides 2008 Toronto Workshops5 Things You Can Do Reports referenced by Franke James to City Official
City of Toronto 2005:
Transportation Report on Wet Weather Flow City of Toronto 2005: Impacts of Front Yard Parking on Wet Weather Flow

305 Responses: 157 Comments and 148 Tweets

  • Wendy says:

    Just found your blog and am so glad I did! It’s fabulous and inspirational! Thank you!

  • […] lusting over a home of my own. It fills my dreams, it calls to me, it keeps my budget in line. And the hippie eco nerd in me REALLY wants to do something like a green driveway. On the other hand, the motorcyclist and car nerd in me wants to live out in the country and to […]

  • We’re hoping more people will do this! We also hope people will start yardsharing to grow food closer to home – so we’ve built – a yardsharing community.

  • Heather Scanlon says:

    Just about finished building our strawbale house. Last summer we put in the vegetable garden. This year we are putting in a permaturf driveway. Found your site to be very informative. Thanks. We are hoping to open one of Canada’s first stawbale bale bed and breakfasts on June 1st, 2009. So if you are ever in Nelson, B.C. drop by and have a look.

  • gina94984 says:

    such a great way to go green. lots of work, but considering the heat in the summer there, well worth it. guess what vancouver’s latest green initiative is? allowing people to raise chickens in their backyards in the city!

  • Justine says:

    You are amazing! Thank you for your persistence in the face of stubborn bureaucracy. Have you heard about the effort by Tree Nation to plant 8 million trees in the Sahara Desert in the shape of a giant heart astronauts can see from space?

  • The other important thing, Franke, is that you chose not to treat City Hall as The Enemy. The wars are begun in the conflicts we entertain within ourselves and play out trivially in our environs and locales… I’m so impressed and energized by your way of going about things! Maybe I can become just a bit more like you as me! More positive, creative about how to arrive at the goal. Just a hoot!

  • […] Paradise Unpaved Now that is a lovely driveway. […]

  • mia says:

    I’m not sure I understand the permaturf. The grass grows through this? It looks wonderful. We are in the process of landscaping and I am interested in this. Good job!

  • Franke James says:


    Yes the grass grows through it. See these two posts for more information on the PermaTurf material we used:

    Green Driveway: Playing with Perception and Reality


    The technology behind our ‘driveway-free’ illusion is PermaTURF. By using this product, our driveway can look just like a green lawn, but actually be load-bearing. This allows vehicles to drive on it without causing ruts or damage to the grass.

    Each plastic paver measures 13″ x 13″, with a depth of 1 1/2 inches. The main concept to understand is that grass seed and soil goes inside each honeycomb cell. (You can place other materials in the cells such as ground cover, or even gravel and pea stones.) The opening on the bottom allows for grass root penetration and development. Once the grass has taken root and grown, the surface appearance is that of any lawn. In addition to driveways, it’s been used for parking areas, access roads, fire lanes and scores of other novel applications.

    How to Build a Green Driveway in a Long Weekend


    Step 6: Fill panels with 30% sand and 70% loam

    But the pretty green PermaTURF isn’t intended to stay visible. So in Step 6, we filled the panels with a mixture of 30% sand and 70% loam (see below). With that mix of sand and loam on top you’d never know the panels were under there.
    [in progress photos] The final step in creating the green driveway, is to fill the panels with grass seed. Using sod would create an instant green driveway — and I considered it. But it’s not recommended for our cold winters because the roots don’t go down as far as with grass grown from seed. However the irony is that our summer weather is so hot (forecast today is 91F/ 32C), that it’s recommended that we wait for cooler weather to plant the grass seed.

    Let me know if you build a green driveway. We are very happy with our decision to use PermaTurf, (quality, availability, customer service) but there are other products that are similar to it. Good luck!


  • […] Starting Somewhere 2009 May 21 tags: Franke James, toronto by chapman Paradise Unpaved […]

  • Daharja says:

    Thanks for being such an inspiration, and for being so awesome, Franke.

    All we have to do is show what can be done, and people will learn from each other.

    There is hope. There really is.

  • renaldinio says:

    I love the reference to the Joni Mitchell song, I always loved that one .. You should see if she wants to come and make your “paradise earth” at the next anniversary??

  • […] GREEN YOUR DRIVEWAY “Philadelphia has 80,963 driveways, totalling 84,500,000 sq ft, or 1,939 acres.  Of these, 76,895 are residential, totalling 72,000,000 sq ft, or 1,652 acres (2% of city total).”   They pour about 2 billion gallons of rainwater into storm sewers yearly.  About half of that can carry raw sewage into our rivers. [thanks to Eric.Werfel at PWD]   —There are already several pervious asphalt drives in Philly, such as Vanni subdivision (1125 Southampton Rd) and between 40th, Union, Fairmount, Aspen.  And there are many more paved with staggered blocks, gravelled or grass-covered.  See also: eco-friendly-green-driveways; […]

  • […] “right.” Like what? Well, we sold our only car, an SUV, in February 2007. We built a green driveway despite facing objections from the City. I can feel good about those […]

  • Amith says:

    This is a beautiful story. I love what you have done and would love to do the same when I get out of my condo into a house with a driveway.

    More power to you and hope you continue to inspire all who see your beautiful green garden or read your story.

  • Erik Organic says:

    That’s really informative and inspirational — thanks!

    If I still had a home in the city, I’d do the same thing :)

  • Terra says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS!!!! Made my day.

  • Chris says:


    Nice Job :-)


    Bend Oregon

  • Hooray. What a great story. I’m sharing it with everyone, and will get to work on my own green driveway.

  • Cate says:

    I just mowed my driveway for the first time.

    We had a big surface water problem, and I kept returning to the idea of unpaving the asphalt expanse in our backyard, rather than adding more and more pavement. After our latest basement flood, I decided enough was enough, and we replaced the old bitmeous drive with GrassPav2. So far we have a dry basement, and a beautiful new backyard. The story and pictures are here:

    Many thanks for the inspiration!

  • Franke James says:


    Yeah!! CONGRATULATIONS! How exciting to read about the building of your green driveway.

    I’m thrilled that we played a part in inspiring you!

    Our green driveway has helped with our water issues too. We waterproofed around our house, put in a bigger sump pump, “naughty french” drains ;-) and even new drains to the “stack” (a term I didn’t know until we needed to put the drain to it). Like yours, it’s been quite an adventure!

    Thanks so much for sharing your tremendous story. What’s next?


  • Patric Westmarc says:

    This is awesome, and most inspiring!
    I’ve been interested in rain water reclamation for years. Using this method over a pan that drains into a cistern is just what I’ve been looking for.
    I can see using it as a driveway, patio, even in low-lying areas where water runoff naturally collects, then re-using the water for things where municipal water would normally be used.
    Thank you so much for posting this!

    Patric in SoCal, USA

  • […] Michigan Tech Center for Water and Society, who helped Franke calculate the stormwater runoff for Paradise Unpaved, was interviewed for the article. Dr. Mayer comments, “I’d never seen anything like these […]

  • ben says:

    Very cool way to communicate ideas!

  • […] would label as children’s book for grownups.  Pictures are always a bonus!  Check out Paradise Unpaved for a good example of her […]

  • […] James stands on the green driveway, which is a fully functional driveway which can support the weight of cars and […]

  • Tom Edelman says:

    Accidentally I dropped into your world. Thank-you for making my day knowing that there really are people that care about…. a lot :O) I wish you enough ! Tom e

  • Ka Lun Tam says:


    I came across your website a couple of years back, and really liked your idea of putting down a green driveway. I’ve recently purchased my own house in East York, and I’m hoping to do something similar. We have a mutual driveway shared with our neighbour, and it expands in our backyard into 2 parking spots — but we have no car! I can’t do much about the shared driveway, but I want to replace those paved parking spots with green parking spots — essentially, grass that my visitors can park on. In the past week, I’ve started contacting landscape contractors with experience putting down PermaTurf and similar products.

    The one part I’m hoping you can share with me is the part where you contacted City Hall and got a permit for what you did. It isn’t obvious to me which department I’d need to contact to get things going. Was there anyone specific that you spoke to who familiar with your pilot project, so that they’d know what I was talking about when I described my intentions?


  • Franke James says:


    Great! Eric Jensen is the guy to call. I Googled his name and came up with this info…. * Eric may direct you to someone else but it’s a start.*

    Transportation Services, Right-of-Way Management
    North York District
    Eric Jensen
    Tel: 416-395-7112

    For in-depth, step-by-step articles on how we built our driveway see my Green Driveway articles:

    Good luck!


  • Neil Watson says:

    This is such an inspiring, real world happening. Small bits really help and you helped the environment twice (once by stopping using the SUV and then by unpaving the driveway).

    Very great and full of fruits!


  • Organic Mom says:

    I love this story! Good for you! What is you next project? Go organic!

  • This is a terrific story and great project. Very inspirational! From everyone here at Sckoon Organics we say Bravo To You!

  • Stacy Clark says:

    I always find myself grinning from ear to ear when I experience your work, Franke! I so hope that Joni sees this. Her timeless lyrics and your progressive vision are the best 1970 and 2010! How can 40 years have slipped by and we still don’t have an energy bill? I loved reading and sharing today your graphic essay and review of Eric Pooley’s NYT best-seller, The Climate War. Simply fantastic! I hope every local, state, and national legislator reads it too. You’re a star!

    Stacy Clark

  • that’s an inspiring story, thanks!

  • shedding says:

    This is a sweet illustrated narration of a Toronto family’s transformation of their driveway into a garden, and the nonsensical bureaucracies they overcame.

  • Mirrorgal says:


    I really love to see the entire story all in one place and it’s so beautiful !!!
    What an example you are !!!
    Congratulations on getting approval of your green driveway, and I like finished design. It is both green and inspiring.

  • Simon Baker says:

    This is amazing and I would like to do the same I am just wondering about shoveling the snow off in winter and how it would survive.

  • Franke James says:


    Thanks for your comment and email re: Winter.

    I have a post about our all season driveway. We don’t shovel ours — but we could.

    “Many people ask us if we shovel our green driveway. We could… but we don’t usually. (See My SUV and Me Say Goodbye) But if you want a green driveway and want to keep shoveling through the winter, go ahead. You can do it! It’s okay to shovel the grass because the roots are protected by the PermaTurf, and cannot be damaged. PermaTurf is located in New Hampshire, which gets lots of snow. They tell me they have many customers who regularly shovel their green driveways.

    Of course, grass is not the only way to go. There are other materials which will provide permeability, and allow rainwater to soak into the ground rather than being diverted into the sewers. You will need to research permeable materials that are acceptable in your area as they vary quite a bit.

    Our green driveway has met all of our expectations and requirements. The trade-off of more exercise from walking versus shoveling is one we are very happy with.”

    The grass was well-established within 5 weeks.

    More articles here:


  • […] Read further Franke’s environmental essay Paradise Unpaved. […]

  • […] step by step instructions on how to unpave your driveway, by a homeowner in North York, at Gardening, Resources […]

  • Simply amazing, I am astounded at your efforts Bravo, Bravo!!
    My 4yr old son thanks you!

  • […] I wasn’t going to listen to them and very quickly things snowballed into lots of media attention. “Paradise Unpaved” explains it all – but long story short, I got my green driveway. The media attention helped, but […]

  • […] A short story on eco-paving can be found here. […]

  • […] the person who wouldn’t even build a green driveway without getting permission from City Hall! I believe in working with the system to change laws, not […]

  • M. Coulombe says:

    Madame James…Face à l’intelligence, à la logique et simplement au bon sens…nos gouvernements et incontestablement, notre gouvernement Harper actuel (le plus idiot et bouché qu’il ne nous a jamais été permis de subir) montre son vrai visage…le visage de l’absurde total. Mon Dieu…!!! s’il existait une baguette magique, même à l’unique pouvoir de faire disparaître les choses ou être vivants…je la pointerais illico vers notre cher Premier Ministre Harper.
    Je souhaite que toutes les décisions qui font entrave à votre expositon soient renversées et que vous connaissiez le plus grand des succès…
    Bravo Mme James…je vous appuie totalement.
    Gaspé, P.Québec

  • Jean-Claude Leblanc says:

    Isn’t it funny that the right wing of the political spectrum always claims to be the defender of liberty and freedom?

  • Ellen Powell says:

    Franke, you are WONDERFUL! I’ve just stumbled across this! You MADE my day! Big hugs and kudos to you!

  • […] Environmental recklessness trumps democracy

    It seems Canada is not about to let one of its artists draw attention to the country’s miserable record on environmental issues. The official response to Nektarina’s refusal to cancel James’s show was delivered verbally: “She speaks against the Canadian Government”.

    The intimidation did not stop there. Here’s another quote from the Nektarina Web site: “In the past few months we have encountered many difficulties in organizing the exhibitions, usually connected to interventions of the Canadian Government or institutions under Canadian governmental control. We continued to look for ways to collaborate with the home land of the artist, although at times we felt patronized and even intimidated, as a small NGO trying to reach an understanding with a powerful state.”

    Apparently the Harper Government is unwilling to allow an artist to be welcomed abroad if that private citizen dares call into question any of its policies. This is totally unacceptable censorship, and it is time for Canadians, and anyone else who believes in free speech, to speak out.

    Read more: […]

  • John Fabiani says:

    This is pretty much what my wife does for a living. You folks rock.

  • […] books, and ponder the mystery why a woman who wouldn’t even build a green driveway without fighting for permission from City Hall, could get on the Harper Government’s blacklist by asking for more pollution […]

  • […] pitcher of lemonade. Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Ever since reading Franke’s “Paradise Unpaved” visual essay, I knew she was full of spunk! Her Blacklisting Party simply reaffirmed her […]

  • james Pott says:

    Hi Franke,
    It is because I referenced Louise Livingston the work that the Puget Coop has been doing for the last 50 years ( and the fact that Stephan Guyenet PhD spent some time informing the members about a better life style and eating habits, and she sending me a list of speakers for the next couple of months to forward to our members of the NFU, that I learned about your driveway. Don’t ask how I got there. I may be 70 years old but I am sometimes like a kid, when I come across a link, I’ve got to click it to see what’s behind it. And before you know I have produced a horribly long sentence, with so many subclauses that I have to backtrack in order not to lose my way.That’s how I arrived in your absolutely beautiful driveway. We are eagerly looking forward to seeing you here in Belleville on March 30.
    best regards, James

  • Manju says:

    Franke, Your driveway and your endeavour is an inspiration for all of us. I teach in North York and we are currently learning about the Tar sands of Alberta. I hope to draw from you graphic essays to show my students all that is at stake. Thank you!

  • […] example of the success of this online strategy is a victory in my own front yard. I wanted to persuade my municipal government to overturn an official’s decision, which prevented […]

  • Jane says:

    I am very impressed with your green driveway. I am also very impressed that you went about it without a “fighting city hall” attitude, but chose to approach the challenge of changing the law(s) in a positive manner. As the saying goes, “you can catch a lot more flies with honey than vinegar”. Media attention done “right” can be helpful too, as long as they also approach the problem in a positive manner.
    Hopefully more and more people will see the benefit of your efforst and join the tide of people “going green”.

  • jenny says:

    This is so inspirational! We want a bigger space for our 3 boys to play soccer, so making our driveway space into grass is the perfect solution! Sorry- you may say this already somewhere, but where can one buy PermaTurf in the GTA?
    Thanks a lot!

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