Washington Post columnist John Kelly looks at street curbs in Answer Man Favors Accessorizing the Streets. Kelly receives a question from some DC visitors who notice that the curbs are made of attractive granite instead of prosaic concrete. They ask,

As we had recently upgraded our own kitchen surfaces with granite, at a cost of several thousand dollars, we wondered how the use of such an expensive material can be justified by the city.

Turns out the granite saves labor and money in the long run. Ordinary concrete lasts 10-20 years depending on usage and conditions, while granite lasts many decades or even centuries.

Yes, it’s more expensive than concrete — about $45 per linear foot vs. $25 — but it’s more durable, said Abdullahi Mohamed, a supervisory civil engineer with the D.C. Department of Transportation.

Granite — solid, heavy — resists road salt and errant snowplow blades. When there’s roadwork to be done, granite curbs can be lifted up, set aside, then put back in place.

Apart from the bookkeeping issues are those of community pride and urban beauty.

Answer Man thinks that wherever possible we should strive for beauty, even in the lowly and the mundane. After all, Washington is a city of straight lines, from the grid that Pierre L’Enfant drew when he laid out the city to the knife’s edge walls of the National Gallery of Art East Building. Granite curbs help to crisply delineate the landscape, separating street from sidewalk and reminding us that it’s nice to live in a beautiful city.

A video supplementing Kelly’s column is available. Also, the American Granite Curb Producers website provides detailed information about performance and costs.