In Praise of Sidewalks

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When my husband and I moved into a new house last year, the neighbors were welcoming. Our house is a traditional brick ranch on a winding street with big trees and lovely landscaping. Now the star magnolia tree in my front yard is blooming and the quaking aspen trees are just beginning to bud.

I was taking a walk the other day when I saw a neighbor was busy mulching around his tulips and daffodils. “I love this street,” I told him. A car came around the bend and I stepped gingerly onto the grass. “But the only thing I miss are sidewalks.”

I didn’t expect his heated response. “If we added sidewalks here, I’d move!”

Turns out, there was a neighborhood history that I was ignorant of. A few years back there were sidewalk wars on this very street. Those who wanted sidewalks and petitioned the city for them and those who were decidedly anti-sidewalk and threatened to sue or leave or who knows what if sidewalks were to be mandated.

Also, turns out, there have been sidewalk spats everywhere in this country, from Red Wing Minnesota to Naples, Florida. Who knew?

The anti-sidewalk contingency cites how the traditional character of more rural neighborhoods is destroyed by concrete. Some landscaping would be ruined. But the most significant reason that home-owners are against putting in sidewalks in a traditionally “sidewalk free” zone, is that they don’t want to pay for it. (Homeowners also don’t want to shovel snow. Admittedly, I found this a perk in January).

Still, as a person who grew up in cities and traditional suburbia — all with sidewalks in front of the house – I am decidedly in the pro-sidewalk camp.

I am pro-sidewalk because:

  • sidewalks provide safe places to wheel baby strollers, for kids to play and ride bikes.
  • sidewalks encourage neighbors to visit each other without having to go through yards or step on gardens or grass
  • sidewalks make for safer walks to schools, bus stops and shopping; especially during bad weather.
  • sidewalks help protect property from damage due to erosion and parking

There’s even evidence from a study at Washington State that the presence of sidewalks helps in a small way to alleviate climate change: The results provide early evidence in the potential effectiveness of sidewalks to reduce CO2 and VMT (vehicle miles traveled); sidewalks can make a difference along with other factors to significantly reduce CO2 emissions.

Even with the cost-benefit analysis, I think the pro-sidewalk side wins. But the solution may be to install the sidewalks before anyone moves in!

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