Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I've have spent many an hour thinking about sidewalks....I know sidewalks

In early March, I was reading a Facebook posting by Jane Kansas, a friend in Halifax, and she wrote:

"Why am I walking around the North End of Halifax and still there is no end in sight for the slippy street and sidewalk shit-show going on? What if you are in any way mobility impaired? What if you use a walker? What if you just have weak ankles? What if you have shitty cheap shoes? What it, god for-fucking-fend, you use a wheelchair? Just fuck off and die, I guess."

And I really understand and empathize, and sympathize and endorse her sense of frustration and near despair. Sidewalks can do that to you, especially sidewalks covered by snow and ice. Halifax has had it rough this year, a lot of snow and a real on-going controversy about sidewalk clearing. Jane's rant in the moment of anger touched a chord and got me thinking hard once again about sidewalks. 

I do think about sidewalks a lot and have for years. As a pedestrian with some mobility issues, navigating sidewalks has always been a challenge. Sidewalks have a long history and there are deep connections and intersections between sidewalks and the ways we live together. In the 1990s and the first decade of this century, I was mostly concerned with and provoked by how difficult sidewalks were becoming with double-wide baby carriages, too too many bicycle riders, joggers, runners and kids on scooters and Rollerblades."City Sidewalks Busy Sidewalks," might make many people think of Christmas; to me it is just the norm. Sidewalks are busy and sidewalks are different everywhere. New York City sidewalks are a totally different experience from sidewalks in the west end of Toronto or in Niagara-on-the-Lake where sometimes there are no sidewalks at all. Sidewalks in business districts are different from shopping districts and different again from sidewalks in residential areas or suburbs. 

But nowhere have I found sidewalks as idiosyncratic or difficult as in Buenos Aries, Argentina. 

The picture is me navigating a very normal stretch of sidewalk in BA. In Buenos Aries, each building owner is responsible for the piece of the sidewalk in front of the building. So on any given street the sidewalks are a tapestry reflecting the tastes, inclinations and financial soundness of each building's owners. In the course of a stroll you encounter tile, concrete, stone, marble, brick, steel and each one of these sections can be in pristine shape, slightly damage, a wreck or missing huge chunks. Or sometimes it is under repair and passage is completely impossible. 

Everyday, leaving our apartment and going for a stroll was an exercise in nerve, attention, worry and pure adventure. I found myself wondering about why someone would choose tile over steel plate, brick over concrete, sloping vs flat. I also found myself noting how my walking changed depending on the material in question, the angle of the sidewalk or the degree of apprehension being created by the state of the sidewalk ahead. 

Sometimes, I curse my need to attend to the ground I walk on when I realize what I am missing by not staring ahead or around and then I think about what I am learning about human locomotion and the built environment all arout me. It's a trade-off. P 

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