Broaden the Sidewalks

[Bumped to the front by Rick]

If I have a complaint about downtown Olympia (and actually I have more than one) it would be that the sidewalks are too narrow. This is not because there are people I need to step over, because I never have to step over people (what an insulting concept). It is not because the sidewalks are covered with feces and I can not find a feces free spot to walk. The sidewalks are too narrow because they do not adequately function in their intended manner.

Sidewalks are a public space. Their nature is to provide the zone where people can mingle and converse in a public place. People seem to think that the sidewalk is the zone that protects the buildings from the cars in the street. Others view the sidewalk as the arterial on which people travel. Travel on a sidewalk is really not common as one thinks. Think of the people you know that will get in a car to drive two blocks to buy a qallon of milk.

A side walk is a public place. There should be room for outdoor cafes, push cart vendors, peoples making and selling art. There should be benches and improvised furniture on which people can relax. A sidewalk should be what the users can make of it. Getting from point A to point B is just one function of the sidewalk, and probably the least used and least important function of the sidewalk. Lacking a town square, or similar feature, the sidewalk, in its natural functioning, will take over the role of the town square.

Some might begrudge the homeless and young their space on the sidewalk and this is sad. We have to insist that the sidewalk is a public place to be used for a variety of purposes. The purposes are defined by the users. I'm not saying that the sidewalks are intended for illegal purposes but they are intended for people to live part of their public life. I can not say what defines living a public life. It might mean hanging around, chatting with friends, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, reading a newspaper, talking on the phone, watching people, napping, resting, shopping, running into friends and people that become friends. Our sidewalks need to be wider, there is too much going on there.

Most cities will make sidewalks narrower as to accomodate more cars on the streets. Sidewalks are sacrificed to provide more lanes for cars to travel. A place dominated by automobile travel will cease to be public places. Good examples are the so called sidewalks around our strip malls and big box stores. If you can find side walks at all in those locations you will never see people using the sidewalk as a public place, indeed it is usually impossible at a strip mall or big box store to use the sidewalk to get from point A to point B.

I understand that buildings can not be moved when roads are widened. Again, the sidewalk is sacrificed. But the sidewalk is the lifeblood of a neighborhood, in many ways it is the sidewalk and the life on the sidewalk that creates the safety in the neighborhood. Make the sidewalks narrow enough and our neighborhoods become strip malls and the functional equivilents of big box stores. Cars can prowl and people on foot will no longer exist or be provided for. Maybe this is the intent of the civic planners. Continue to serve the automobiles (which by their very nature are private spaces using public facilities) and make certain that public lives can not exist. Why a city would want to eliminate sidewalks as public places will take up another huge block of space so I will address that at another time.

"I would make it impossible for the covetous and avaricious to utterly impoverish the poor. The rich can take care of themselves."


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