Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library

Sidewalks: Conflict and Negotiation over Public Space

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris
Renia Ehrenfeucht
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 344
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Urban sidewalks, critical but undervalued public spaces, have been sites for political demonstrations and urban greening, promenades for the wealthy and the well-dressed, and shelterless shelters for the homeless. On sidewalks, decade after decade, urbanites have socialized, paraded, and played, sold their wares, and observed city life. These many uses often overlap and conflict, and urban residents and planners try to include some and exclude others. In this first book-length analysis of the sidewalk as a distinct public space, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Renia Ehrenfeucht examine the evolution of the American urban sidewalk and trace conflicts that have arisen over its competing uses. Drawing on historical and contemporary examples as well as case study research and archival data from five cities--Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Seattle--they discuss the characteristics of sidewalks as small urban public spaces, and such related issues as the ambiguous boundaries of their "public" status, contestation over specific uses, control and regulations, and the implications for First Amendment speech and assembly rights.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-25546-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. I History and Evolution

    • 1 Introduction: The Social, Economic, and Political Life of Sidewalks
      (pp. 3-14)

      Most of us take sidewalks for granted. An undervalued element of the urban form, this public ground connects points of origin and destination, and few people go through the day without traversing at least one sidewalk. Sidewalks are unassuming, standardized pieces of gray concrete that are placed between roadways and buildings, and their common appearance belies their significance and history as unique but integral parts of the street and urban life. A commercial terrain for merchants and vendors, a place of leisure for flâneurs, a refuge for homeless residents, a place for day-to-day survival for panhandlers, a space for debate...

    • 2 Construction and Evolution of Sidewalks
      (pp. 15-34)

      The sidewalk—a designated part of the roadway that separates and protects people from vehicles— has a long but interrupted history. The first sidewalks appeared around 2000 to 1990 B.C. “at thekarumof Kultepe” in central Anatolia (modern Turkey) (Kostof 1992, 191). Accounts relate that the ancient Greek city of Corinth had sidewalks that were used through the fourth century, but the date of their construction is unclear (Catling 1986–1987). Beginning in the third century B.C., the Romans had a special word for sidewalks,semita(Kostof 1992, 209), but sidewalks disappeared when Rome was conquered from the north...

  5. II Display, Opportunity, and Celebration

    • [II Introduction]
      (pp. 35-38)

      On sidewalks, people engage daily with other urbanites. They greet familiar bus drivers and baristas, observe neighbors they have never met, and cross paths with strangers. Urban residents value these fleeting and ephemeral interactions, which make cities intriguing and possibilities in public spaces endless.

      People enjoy diverse public arenas—commercial streets, sidewalks and parks, open-air markets, and coffee shops. Brief encounters can be pleasurable when people display their identities, engage in playful behavior, or share smiles. Iris Marion Young’s (1990) “unassimilated otherness” envisions a just city that embraces diversity. In her appealing world, savvy urbanites move through all spaces with...

    • 3 Promenading and the Performance of Individual Identities
      (pp. 39-60)

      Michel de Certeau (1993) has described the city as a story that unfolds continuously as people move through space on different trajectories. Sidewalks are such spaces of movement. They facilitate social encounters among strangers and expose sidewalk users to a public gaze. As people see and are seen by other city residents, they become mindful of their differences from and similarities to others, these public interactions help construct and display individual identities.

      On urban sidewalks, visitors and residents interact in countless formal and informal ways, which may allow for playfulness and openness. Observers have celebrated the sidewalks as “the breathing...

    • 4 Performing Collective Identities: Parades, Festivals, and Celebrations
      (pp. 61-80)

      Sidewalks transcend their ordinary functions when people “take to the streets” to celebrate, protest, and mourn—either formally or in an impromptu fashion. In these instances, groups come together as a community. A sport team’s victory can instigate joyful celebration. A senseless death caused by a hit-and-run driver or a drive-by shooter brings neighbors together to mourn an incomprehensible loss. A neighborhood block party, a marriage or funeral procession, or even street picketing may momentarily unite individuals, engendering a sense of commonality as people share roles as fans, neighbors, friends, or coworkers.

      Some formal events occur at regular (often annual)...

  6. III Disruption and Confrontation

    • [III Introduction]
      (pp. 81-84)

      As sites of daily routines, sidewalks facilitate both expected and unexpected interactions. Neighbors greet each other from doorways or meet on sidewalks as they walk with their children or dogs. On busy downtown streets, pedestrians negotiate sidewalk space with others, sometimes purchasing a hot dog from a sidewalk vendor or dropping a coin into the cup of a street person. At sidewalk cafés, people watch passersby, enjoying fleeting encounters like smiles or brief comments. These street encounters are unscripted although some may be anticipated, and the breadth of possibilities—even when only few are realized—enhances the urban experience.


    • 5 Everyday Politics and the Right to the Sidewalk
      (pp. 85-96)

      Daily interpersonal interactions offer opportunities for sidewalk users to disrupt and counter social expectations. Sometimes this is simply playful, as when rambunctious teenagers take over a sidewalk, but at other times, people intentionally act in unexpected ways to challenge unjust social norms. Sidewalks are sites of both domination and resistance (Fyfe 1998). To emphasize and maintain their status, some social groups have in the past demanded deference from members of other groups that they encountered on public sidewalks, and these norms were backed by city ordinances. For example, African Americans were historically expected to act deferentially in shared public spaces....

    • 6 Sidewalk as Space of Dissent
      (pp. 97-122)

      More than sixty years and a sea change in the perception of streets and sidewalks separate the above two incidents. They illustrate two opposing views of sidewalks as political spaces. The first perceives sidewalks as the political realm par excellence—an inclusive public forum that enables debate, dissent, and political action. This view celebrates sidewalks as spatial settings where “subversive forces, forces of rapture, ludic forces act and meet” (Barthes 1986, 96) and where “marginalized groups make themselves visible enough to be counted as legitimate members of the polity” (Lees 1998, 115). The right to “take to the streets” thus...

  7. IV Competing Uses and Meanings

    • [IV Introduction]
      (pp. 123-126)

      Accommodating diversity in public is a critical and necessary ideal of democracy. Sidewalks can be spaces that facilitate “unassimilated otherness” and where people of varying affiliations and identities coexist (Young 1990). Because civility in the face of diversity is expected in such public spaces (Lofland 1998), most sidewalk encounters are trouble-free and often pleasant or useful.

      Notwithstanding the need for urban residents to live together and an expectation of civility, competition and conflict over specific spaces are at times unavoidable. Activities that are not intentionally disruptive can still be incompatible in small public spaces. Sidewalks present a paradox. Many sidewalk...

    • 7 Sidewalk as Space of Economic Survival
      (pp. 127-156)

      The geographer Edward Soja has noted that “relations of power and discipline are inscribed into the apparently innocent spatiality of social life” (Soja 1989, 6). When ordinary activities such as mobile or stationary vending, displaying wares outside stores, and day laboring become conflictual, they reflect larger struggles over social change and attempts to manage it. Established merchants and middle- and upper-class citizens have tried to deny mobile vendors the opportunity to use sidewalks for economic activity (Bromley 2000). Street vendors and day laborers, driven by economic need, have negotiated their presence, evading or challenging regulations and asserting claims to the...

    • 8 Sidewalk as Shelter
      (pp. 157-188)

      In 2005,Los Angeles Timescolumnist Steve Lopez dismayed Los Angeles residents when he investigated the city’s skid row¹ streets. He described streets and sidewalks that were filthy, gutters that teemed with garbage and feces, and alleys that reeked of stale urine. Thousands spent the night outside in the streets. Some had sex in outhouses. Others used drugs or alcohol or had mental health problems. The articles revealed to Angelenos the perils facing people who survived on the city’s inhospitable downtown sidewalks.

      ForLos Angeles Timesreaders, homelessness was unacceptable, and therefore sidewalks could never legitimately be used for shelter....

    • 9 Sidewalk as Urban Forest
      (pp. 189-218)

      In May 2006, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa launched the city’s Million Trees LA Initiative to plant a million new trees over the next several years (Million Trees LA n.d.). Other cities across the United States (including Denver, Chicago and Baltimore) have similar programs (“Hartford: General Benefits of Canopy” 2006; Meyer 2006; Slevin and Lyderson 2006) that envision sidewalks as part of an urban forest. This green vision for urban sidewalks aspires to create greener, healthier cities.

      Trees offer many benefits that urbanites generally like, but planting and maintaining an urban forest has proven to be a formidable task. Urban...

  8. V Regulation and Control

    • [V Introduction]
      (pp. 219-224)

      Conflicts over competing uses motivate municipalities to regulate sidewalks. These controls—how they are worded and how they are enforced—raise delicate questions: In practice, whose interests have priority, and whose should have priority? Should comfort be a litmus test or even a factor when deciding which activities should be allowed or excluded? How can cities balance diverse interests when some interfere with others, both symbolically and physically? Will municipalities sacrifice justice when seeking vitality?

      Since the nineteenth century, U.S. cities have sought to regulate their public spaces, but public-space controls have neither alleviated discomfort nor encouraged sidewalk activity. Even...

    • 10 Controlling Danger, Creating Fear
      (pp. 225-242)

      Urban public spaces offer opportunities for interactions with unfamiliar people and unexpected experiences. For many, they seem to teem with danger, deviance, and vice. Responses to these concerns result in definitions of appropriate behavior and acceptable people, the identification of those who fit in and those who do not, and the justification of sanctioned controls.

      People feel fear or cause anxiety as they go about their daily business. A homeless person on the sidewalk may cause discomfort. People of color walking in a white neighborhood may invoke fear. Unaccompanied children are seen to be at risk, and women are warned...

    • 11 Municipalities in Control
      (pp. 243-264)

      Few cities have a coherent framework for governing sidewalks.¹ Because sidewalks are provided and maintained as transportation facilities, cities are authorized to control other activities that may take place on them. A city’s objectives in providing and regulating sidewalks might appear to be obvious. A city’s economic interests—growth and development—encourage public-space controls that support an economic-growth agenda (Peterson 1981; Logan and Molotch 2007). This interest in public-space controls is present even when the underlying economic concerns shift. After examining regulations that were intended to control homelessness, for example, Feldman (2004) argued that municipal ordinances reflect a shift from...

    • 12 Revisiting Public Space and the Role of Sidewalks
      (pp. 265-274)

      What role is played by urban sidewalks in the early twenty-first century? After the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, Anthony Vidler argued that streets and sidewalks continue to be sites “of interaction, encounter and the support of strangers for each other; the square as a place of gathering and vigil; the corner store as a communicator of information and interchange. These spaces, without romanticism and nostalgia, still define an urban culture” (Vidler 2001, quoted in Mitchell 2003, 3).

      But what do they define? Urban observers have interpreted the street as an important site of democracy, and this assumption needs to...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 275-282)
  10. References
    (pp. 283-314)
  11. Index
    (pp. 315-328)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 329-331)