Building an Urbanite Retaining Wall or Path


This time of year, I spend a lot of my time working on landscaping, artificial turf installation, and gardening projects. Because we built our house fairly recently, we have had to put in any and all hardscaping ourselves and we have recently ordered rocks and stones from a peach flagstone supply service. As anyone who has had to buy retaining wall stones can tell you, the cost of those projects adds up very quickly. But there’s one way to get low walls, paths and patios for nothing but sweat equity: urbanite.

Urbanite is just a catchy name for demolished concrete. When homeowners or builders tear out driveways, sidewalks or concrete pads, they first have to break the concrete into pieces and haul it out. Since concrete has one consistently flat side, it works well as a replacement for paving stones. Depending on the state of the bottom side of the pieces, concrete can also be stacked into low retaining walls.

The keys to working with urbanite are preparation and patience. You’ll still need to prepare your area much the same way you would if you were laying manufactured pavers or retaining wall stones: Level your area, compact the ground, lay a base of good-draining material, and then take the time to fit your pieces well.

When installing multi-layer projects, placing and leveling the pieces can be a real challenge. The rock wall in our front yard took me the better part of a month to complete, working on small sections at a time. Don’t count on your finished wall being perfectly level, and make sure you have a lot of small shim stones on hand to shove under and between not-quite-flat pieces.

To find concrete for your project, check Freecycle, Craigslist, the classified Give Away section…or just keep your eyes peeled. I’ve been eyeing this huge pile of concrete near my neighborhood…I just have to figure out who to ask about taking some of it.

Ideally, all the pieces for your project should come from the same demolition job to ensure that they’re all the same height. However, if you’re doing a patio or path, you can get away with pieces of different heights, by simply adding more or less fill beneath them.

Concrete hardscaping really shines once your plantings have had a chance to fill in around or spill over them. Because the pieces truly are random, your finished project will have the look and feel of being built from real stone, rather than the overly-tidy manufactured pieces.

You can check out some good examples of urbanite retaining walls in the area surrounding Bonner Park. And here’s a great tutorial from local native plant landscaper and botanist David Schmetterling on constructing your own urbanite path.

There you have it: free, creative, reused hardscaping for your home. Have you tried projects with urbanite or similar materials? I’d love to hear about them! Scroll down to the “Comments” box and leave your ideas.

Like this ‘Reuse It’  blog post by Lisa Hensley?  Then chances are you’ll also like our Going Green Missoula Recycling page,  or other Re-Use It blogs:  Heirloom Seeds or Re-Use It by Composting


Click here to see Lisa Hensley’s Reuse It Archive.


Lisa Hensley is a mostly-native Montanan, living in Missoula with her husband, two young boys, two cats (boys), one tiny dog (a girl!) and 4 fish (probably boys). She spent more than 10 years in the Marketing and creative field, but is now Director of Household Operations for the Hensley group. When she’s not herding kids or doing laundry, she’s shooting photos, gardening, baking, reading or taking classes—sometimes all at once. She serves on the Board of Directors for Home ReSource, which fits in nicely with her tendency to repurpose pretty much anything.