Never Underestimate The Power Of – A Sidewalk?

Last night, on my walk, it occurred to me that, while I could easily continue to write about loneliness for the next several days/weeks, it’s time to move on – at least for now.  That said, I thought I would offer one final thought in my capacity as the self-appointed “Loneliness Czar:”  We need more sidewalks!  I’m always leery of people who claim to have surveyed the landscape of their lives and concluded that they “have no regrets,” that even if given a second chance – the proverbial “life mulligan” – they would do everything and make precisely the same choices as they did the first time around.  I’m not one of those people.  I have regrets – a number of them actually.  Some are quite personal, others more practical.  Some pertain to my own life, some have affected the lives of others – many of whom I cared (and still care) deeply about.  But among them is the fact that I “allowed” my children to grow up in a place that didn’t understand the importance of sidewalks.

Like so many other regrets on my list, this one happened mostly by default – ignorance really.  You see, I never fully appreciated the role that sidewalks play in the creation and maintenance of a sense of community.  It never occurred to me that a four foot ribbon of poured concrete winding its way through a neighborhood was such a critical thread in connecting the patchwork lives of the people who occupied the houses along its route.  That is until I visited Columbus, Ohio one Spring, when my children were much older, and saw firsthand the difference that sidewalks can make.  In the “neighborhoods” we’d come from, the ones my children were growing up in, no one ventured out of their houses without having a destination – perhaps one of the few locals park for some form of organized sport (or because there were sidewalks there!), the mall, a play group or simply to a friend’s house for a few more hours of indoor video games.

Not so in Columbus, Ohio.  They had sidewalks – and people were using them, lots of people were using them!  Adults were using them for walking, for running, for pushing their newborn infants and toddlers in strollers.  And, believe it or not, from time to time, they were actually stopping and talking to their neighbors, who were out working in their yards or simply sitting there lounging, enjoying the sights and the sounds and the activities that sidewalks encourage.  Imagine that!  There were children, who already knew how to ride their bikes, safely riding 2-wheelers and tricycles up and down the block and, in some instances, sharing the sidewalk with those learning to ride for the first time.  There were others on skateboards and roller blades and still others enjoying games of hop-scotch and box ball.  Every few blocks or so I also saw small sections of sidewalks being occupied by “stands” selling lemonade or baked goods – and the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

In short, the neighborhoods were alive.  There was a sense of community.  Most importantly, relationships were being built, friendships were being formed – loneliness was on the run.  That simply wasn’t happening in the neighborhood(s) where we lived, where my children grew up – and it’s really not that surprising, in retrospect, when you consider how difficult it is to ride a bike, roller-blade, skate-board, push a stroller or even walk through 6-inch high St. Augustine grass!  I’m not sure how I “missed” that at the time.  Part of it was that I just wasn’t as sensitive to these kinds of things back then.  I wasn’t paying attention, but I’m certainly paying attention to them now and I want to encourage others to do the same.  That’s one of the few benefits, it seems to me, to looking back and reflecting on things you might have done differently – others have a chance to learn from your experiences, your mistakes.

We need more sidewalks!

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