Sharring experiences in urban infrastructure delivery.

Sidewalk “Word Art” – A low cost placemaking idea

By: Tom Davis Category: Placemaking, Sidewalk Art, Sidewalk Features

In various locations in the newly rebuilt streets in downtown Houston you will find a stone tablet with an engraved, short poetic phrase and the author’s name. "Happiness is but a step" engraved in the stone The tablets are surrounded by concrete unit pavers as shown in the photo here.  Look for them on the streets served by the METRO buses.

They were installed at the time the sidewalk was re-built.  You could add similar stone tablets to an existing sidewalk. A full-depth saw cut in the tool-joints in a standard concrete sidewalk would allow lifting out that panel. The curved side of the tool joint that remains would lead the average person to think you had originally planned it that way.  Excavate enough dirt to place a 4-inch concrete sub-slab to support the paver band and stone tablet. You will have created a distinctive and classy–IMHO–break in the monotony of concrete sidewalk.  With the sub-slab it would also continue to look very nice and not be maintenance intensive. If someone tells you to use cement stabilized sand instead–as it is easier and cheaper to install–be ready to level it soon as  the installation will not last. So you forever have a maintenance headache.

To contribute to the placemaking effort for an area the poetry, the type of stone and paver banding could be selected to reflect area’s heritage or theme.

What have you seen or installed that gave the sidewalk more impact and interest? Leave it here in the comments or email me at

Watch for an article here soon about a street where we saw-cut the sidewalk and filled with pavers as described here.  The addition made a tremendous difference in the look and feel of something special.

An Aside – When I used the term “placemaking” in this post it occurred to me that maybe I am using it wrong or in the wrong context. So, I looked around, i.e. Googled it, and found this article by Project for Public Spaces. PPS has influenced downtown Houston in good ways for many years. Based on that article I think this little idea is a contribution to placemaking–in my humble non-urban-planner view.


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