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The Politics of Sidewalk Funding

Do cities that make homeowners repair sidewalks subsidize car culture? Or do cities that fund sidewalks subsidize sprawl?
August 24, 2016, 5am PDT | Elana Eden
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Alita Xander

After paying to fix the sidewalk outside his home in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, walkability advocate Randy Garbin argues in CityLab that municipalities should fund sidewalk repair as part of regular public infrastructure maintenance.  

Pedestrian infrastructure, he says, is too often neglected in favor of facilities that serve cars.

"The [Jenkintown] policy struck me as yet-another example of how towns and cities subsidize automobile usage and neglect walkability," he writes. "Freed from responsibility for its sidewalks, the town spends the money elsewhere, often on pedestrian-unfriendly projects."

Aaron Renn of urbanophile challenges that perspective, arguing that in some cases, privatizing sidewalk repair can further progressive urban values like walkability, density, and sustainability.

Particularly in suburban areas, he says, homeowners should bear responsibility for an improvement that "benefits [the homeowner] personally more than anyone else," rather than outsource the costs of unsustainable neighborhoods to municipalities.

"The best way to curb sprawl is to make these developments start internalizing their infrastructure cost," Renn writes. "Once these costs start becoming visible, change is possible."

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Published on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 in CityLab
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