From ancient civilizations to modern cities, curbs have served practical, aesthetic, and safety purposes.


Sean McIllwain, MOD Boulder Real Estate

Sean McIllwain, MOD Boulder Real Estate

Throughout history, curbs have played a significant role in the development of streets and urban landscapes. From ancient civilizations to modern cities, curbs have served practical, aesthetic, and safety purposes. Watch your step as we cross into the fascinating history and design of curbs.

The origin of curbs can be traced back thousands of years. In ancient Pompeii, evidence of curbs can be found in the well-preserved city streets. However, the widespread construction and use of curbs began in the 18th century as part of urban beautification efforts.

In the 18th century, various movements toward urban improvement spurred the implementation of curbs. Paving Acts, such as the notable 1766 Paving and Lighting Act in London, authorized the creation of footways along the streets. These footways were lined with materials like stone, with curbs separating them from the middle thoroughfare. The introduction of curbs also led to the city’s responsibility of road maintenance, including cleaning and repair, which was funded through taxes.

Before curbs became prevalent, small wooden bollards were often used to demarcate pedestrian areas on the streets. However, by the late 18th century, curbs had largely replaced bollards as the preferred method of separating pedestrians from carriageways.

The design of curbs has evolved to accommodate various needs. Straight curbs are the most common type, providing a simple and defined boundary between the road and the sidewalk. Rolled curbs, featuring a gentle curve at the top, offer a more organic and visually appealing transition. Sloped curbs, on the other hand, are angled downward to facilitate better drainage and prevent water accumulation.

In addition to functionality, curbs have aesthetic significance. They contribute to the overall visual appeal of streets, adding a sense of structure to urban environments. Decorative curbs, crafted from materials like brick, stone, or stamped concrete, further enhance the aesthetics of upscale neighborhoods or commercial areas.

With the advent of Macadam roads in the early 19th century, curbs became ubiquitous in cities. They provided structural support to pavement edges and helped channel rainwater and melted snow into storm drains, preventing flooding, and ensuring proper drainage.

However, curbs are not without their limitations. The cost of constructing curbs can be a factor, leading to their limited use in rural areas unless specific drainage conditions necessitate them. In some urban settings, alternatives such as living streets are employed, where curbs are minimized or eliminated to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment.

In recent years, accessibility has also become a crucial consideration in curb design. Curb cuts, introduced in the mid-20th century, facilitate mobility for physically disabled individuals, allowing smoother transitions from the sidewalk to the road.

Curbs continue to be an integral part of urban planning and design. They define spaces, enhance safety, and contribute to the overall aesthetics of streets. As cities evolve and new technologies emerge, the design and functionality of curbs will continue to adapt to meet the changing needs of urban environments.

By Sean McIllwain, Sean is the founding broker of Mod Boulder Real Estate. Call 720.252.6051 or visit