I've written before about Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Reina Ehrenfeucht's important work on sidewalks and their crucial role in creating and sustaining a vibrant city--along with city officials' ongoing attempts to thwart that role. Last week in LA we were treated to yet another example of a city trying to limit the use of sidewalks to specific, sanctioned activities.
For the non-locals, downtown LA is in the midst of a renaissance that includes an extremely successful nighttime Art Walk on Thursdays. Last week Occupy protesters organized a "chalk walk" during the Art Walk festivities, writing their slogans on the local sidewalks and--in the process--impeding the flow of pedestrians. When they refused to move, police got involved, and (as the pattern goes here in LA) things got out of control.
It would be easy to make this about the sometimes-unruly Occupy movement and their politics, but the real issue has nothing to do with the specifics of this incident. Instead, it highlights a fundamental disagreement over the purpose of sidewalks. As quoted in the LA Weekly, the LAPD argues,
"One thing that's getting lost is...we had people writing on the sidewalks and, because so many were doing it, they were blocking the sidewalk and forcing pedestrians to walk in the roadway."
The unspoken implication is that the sidewalk serves one purpose only: moving pedestrians (while of course keeping them out of the way of all-important flow of vehicle traffic).
But sidewalks do so much more than that. They're a place for social interaction, expression, discovery, art and beauty. They're the place where the shopkeeper and the millionaire executive can nod to one another as equals. For some people, they're even home.
Until Los Angeles acknowledges--and even embraces--the many reasons sidewalks exist, we're never going to have a world-class walking city.