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Sidewalk Wars

It wasn't until recently that I discovered that sidewalks, something I never imagined to be even remotely controversial, can lead to some of the most heated debates you'll ever witness. S. Mitra Kalita has a pretty incredible article in the Wall Street Journal about the debates over installing sidewalks in suburban America.

(from chrissuderman on Flickr)

Consider this blurb, which made me cringe the first few times I read it.
Claude Pagacz, a retired carpenter and longtime resident, successfully opposed sidewalks on his side of the street. "What concrete adds to the value of my house," he says, "I have no idea."
You could say the same about a of things. What value does an extra couple square feet of grass add to the house? Or a tree out front? Or a bigger driveway? My hypothesis is that you could run a multivariate regression using home price and home attribute data and find that a sidewalk actually does add value to a housing unit, controlling for all other variables. But at this point it's just speculative, so let's move on.

Municipalities should require that all new building include sidewalks. And the reason they ought to require it is because sidewalks need to be the default.

Honestly, I think the debates that are raging about sidewalks aren't even really about sidewalks - they're about change. Some people, for one reason or another, are scared of change, don't like it and don't want it. If the default is no sidewalks, then the prospect of installing sidewalks frightens them. If, on the other hand, sidewalks have been around for as long as people have lived in their home, I bet that they'd fight to preserve them if the debate were ever flipped on its head.

I'm not aa Realtor, but how often do home-buyers actually reject a house, or refuse to look at one, because of the presence of a sidewalk out front?


Anonymous said…
I wouldn't buy a house in a neighborhood WITHOUT sidewalks. Then again, I wouldn't buy one with a moat and a dragon, either. Are people really that eager to avoid all interaction with their neighbors?
Dave Reid said…
I agree with the fear of change premise, and to some extent the fear of an outsider as well.
Christine said…
Tell me if you've heard this one: "I'm not shoveling my sidewalk because if I do and someone slips and falls anyway, they can sue me. If I don't make an attempt, it's an act of God, and they can't."
Rob Pitingolo said…
Christine, a while back I recall listening to an attorney on WCPN say that legally, not shoveling is safer than shoveling. I can't find that episode anywhere online, but if you know where it is, I'd appreciate it.
Christine said…
Rob, I've heard both sides of the issue, and I think it's real muddy. Chances are your city ordinances will say you must clear your sidewalks within 24 hours (or similar), so who's right? Add to that the complication that in some municipalities you might get issued a ticket for walking in the street, even though you have little choice if there's a foot of unshoveled snow on the sidewalk.

I think that there's a perception that only poor people "have to" walk places, and since poor people are nothing but "greedy scavengers," of course if they slip and fall they will sue you. It's a hatred and fear of the Other at play, partly. I saw it a lot here in Cleveland this winter.

Frankly it disappoints me to live in a world where we force little old ladies to walk in the street.

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