Designers think a lot about how wide sidewalks should be, what they should be made of, and how they should be decorated with wastebaskets and benches. Should they also think about what happens on a sidewalk?
A book from the MIT Press, Sidewalks: Conflict and Navigation Over Public Space, (reviewed here) explores the role of sidewalks; more than a transportation route, they are our most prevalent public space. We know sidewalks are promenades for “the consuming public” but should they also be available to the homeless, to panhandlers, and to protesters?
What makes sidewalks so challenging and interesting is the interaction between public and private—the storefront enticing a passerby, a sidewalk café creating a public stage. In America we feel compelled to rope off sidewalk cafes, while in Greece, building leases come with the right to set up tables across the street in a public square.
When we design and layout our sidewalks do we value property rights, mobility, social justice, neatness, or a cool drink in a sunny spot?