How the lack of sidewalks could act as a social barrier became clear to me recently. I am a sucker for all shows house- and architecture-related, and was watching one on Wealth TV talking about L.A.’s “Platinum Triangle” neighborhoods of Bel Air, Beverly Hills, and Holmby Hills. What stood out to me wasn’t the discussion of the houses, but a simple sentence stating that sidewalks were pretty nonexistent in them to keep the public from exploring the neighborhoods.
Growing up in the city, sidewalks were a given in my day-to-day. This is the sidewalk in front of the NE Washington, DC that house I grew up in. It figured heavily into my life. As a child, I skated and leapfrogged and skinned my knees and played on it. Neighbors were greeted, dogs were fled from, and it was upon them that I learned about my neighborhood and the people within it. As I got older they were the paths I used to venture out to see more of the city itself. Jane Jacobs, in her The Death and Life of Great American Cities, gives a lot of thought to sidewalks and their vital role in terms of socialization and safety.
Sidewalks are a social space. We stop and chat. We people watch. We encounter others–strangers and known. Sidewalks flow and move us: to work, to shop, to interact. The thing about sidewalks is that we don’t think much about them. And for those who are used to them, we tend to not think about them until they don’t exist.