Storm sewers come up a lot when sustainability is discussed: they take every bit of poison we put on the ground, concentrate it, and put it into our waterways. There has to be a better way, and Ann Arbor is trying one along the optimistically named Easy St., off Packard in the Allen School neighborhood in southeast Ann Arbor. The drains have mostly been replaced by “porous pavers”—six-foot-wide strips of concrete squares, built in lattices so that stormwater can flow into the ground between the cracks.

Does the system overflow in heavy storms? Yes—but no more so than leaf- and trash-clogged storm sewers. And to help keep water away from basements there’s a backup: a set of “vegetated swales,” depressions in either the setback or the edges of front yards that hold excess water. Residents along the street have stepped up and put flowering plants in these swales, turning a fairly plain subdivision streetscape into something ­parti-colored and various. I’ve met visitors who came from the metro Detroit suburbs to see them. New porous pavers and swales are on the way in the subdivision south of Packard, west of Platt.