Stuck at home because of the coronavirus, millions of urban residents suddenly became acutely aware of an easily overlooked element of urban infrastructure: their neighborhood sidewalks (or lack thereof).
“Maybe when this is all over we can widen the sidewalks,” mused Dan Rather in an April 2 tweet that garnered over 26,000 likes. The retired newscaster was on to something: During the lockdowns, as walking provided a critical antidote to cabin fever, sidewalks become crowded, contested space. Many are too narrow to provide the requisite six feet of physical distance from others, as a performance artist in Toronto memorably showed. With vehicle traffic temporarily in retreat during Covid-19 shelter-at-home rules, many cities claimed street space for pedestrians via quick-fix solutions like traffic cones and Jersey barriers. Meanwhile, retailers and restaurants, desperate for safer outdoor space, are making their own incursions into this increasingly valuable infrastructural commodity.