Continuing to think of sidewalks cleared of snow (or not), why are sidewalks often viewed as the responsibility of a property owner? Are sidewalks a collective phenomena that benefit all or are there they parts of private property that individual property owners are responsible for? The latter response makes it easier to blame individual property owners for not clearing the snow. But, it is hard to imagine walking only the sidewalk in front of one property; the sidewalks connect to many other sidewalks.
Several factors contribute to less interest in a collective responsibility for sidewalks:
- Laws and regulations can differ by municipality regarding sidewalks. Are property owners responsible for repairing and maintaining sidewalks? Are they asked to clear their own sidewalks?
- As noted yesterday, fewer people are outside. Some people use sidewalks a lot but many people use them rarely. Snow and cold also reduce use.
- The suburbs are individualistic, people may not know their neighbors well, and property values are only partly dependent on the neighborhood. People want to act self sufficient.
- There is little interest in or experience of the kind of thriving sidewalk life Jane Jacobs described in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. In the picture Jacobs provides, people are constantly using sidewalks in a variety of ways. There are always people out and about, helping to create social norms and providing numerous opportunities for social interactions. Sidewalks in many suburban neighborhoods are more like empty tableaus where an occasional person and sometimes dog passes by. People would often prefer to live in quiet neighborhoods.
- Help is often associated with payment. Yes, a neighbor could clear snow as a favor but kids occasionally look to make money by shoveling, people pay to have their driveways cleared, and HOAs take care of this in many neighborhoods.
Put these all together and a good number of sidewalks contain snow and ice. This could suggest that collective efficacy is low in these neighborhoods; I will explore a possible multi-site research design tomorrow.
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