This Sidewalk is closed to low income

A very prevalent issue in New York is the privatization of our sidewalks. Sidewalks are for everyone, or at least they are supposed to be. It is quite often to walk a sidewalk in Manhattan (or many parts of Brooklyn as well for that part) and have to be shoved to the side in order to avoid running into a couple having $20 eggs and bacon at a ‘hip’ restaurant that has spilled out onto the sidewalk.

Sidewalks are constantly being shrunk by restaurants in order to expand their markets, but this does nothing to serve the members of the community who made/make the most of this public space. In areas such as Crown Heights, Williamsburg and Bushwick (all heavily gentrified or in the process of being so), gone are the conversations between the residents and in come the issues and the discussions of those who can afford the aforementioned overpriced food. Not only do the crowded sidewalks disrupt the community, they also create dangerous situations for pedestrians in crowded areas. Winnie Hu makes note of this in her article, ‘New York’s Sidewalks Are So Packed, Pedestrians Are Taking To The Streets’, “if there is an epicenter of crowded sidewalks in New York, it is near Penn Station, where pedestrians, food carts and newsstands all vie for space. Only London and Tokyo have sidewalks as congested, said Daniel A. Biederman, president of the 34th Street Partnership, which oversees the business district in the area. As many as 14,000 pedestrians an hour walk in front of the Modell’s Sporting Goods store on Seventh Avenue near West 34th Street, according to 2015 data collected by the partnership.” The presence of these private entities have done nothing except encroach on already limited public space, residents and everyday commuters are being forced away from their usual routine in order to establish services that do not necessarily benefit them. How can be allowed to happen? Public space is vital to the existence and ecosystem of the economy, it is both a tool for transport and a meeting ground for people who are woven into the fabric of what the community is, or at least what the community used to be. The New York metropolitan area’s public space is being eaten up by gentrification, the loss of this meeting ground (and even safety zone) only spells doom and gloom for neighborhoods. As a city we require fewer tables for extra customers on a busy day and more areas for our residents to express themselves in and use.


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  1. As much as I agree with the sentiment here, Shevin, the sad reality that neo-liberalism and capitalism will always take precedent over the well-being, health, and opportunities of the people. To the business owners of these places, this is just about making money and making their customers happy. They don’t care that this causes traffic or the safety of pedestrians. Unless there’s a change in mindset of American business people or the system in general, this system will prevail and making money will always be the end goal.

  2. Going off of what Shannan mentioned, the social and cultural values of the city have definitely changed due to neoliberalism. It’s no longer about what residents and local commuters need. It’s always about catering to the capitalist and profitable side of things. Thinking back on the Peter Eisigner article read in class, he mentions that the imbalance in priorities that exists when catering to the middle class. This imbalance then leads to distrust and resentment in communities against authorities who are not taking their concerns into consideration. This also relates to what you said about the dynamic of public space that is now disrupted as there is growing discontent in communities as people are forced to deal with congested space and lack of pure interaction.

  3. Shevin, your blog clearly conveys how privatization and gentrification takes place in this form of public space. By limiting the resources and areas for residents to even walk on, while expanding restaurants and other businesses that mostly wealthy individuals can afford to pay for. This drives away homeless individuals who may just want to rest on the sidewalk for a while, wholly restricts the social and safety privileges of individuals who live in the neighborhoods, and lessens the cultural value of the neighborhood as such restaurants are built in areas where wealthy people living outside of those neighborhoods can afford to eat in overly priced eateries. Rather than using their money to benefit the social and cultural lives and well-being of individuals living in these ‘limiting public space/gentrified’ neighborhoods, businesses are just financially benefitting themselves by exaggerating the fancy settings and foods that only a few people can actually afford to eat.

  4. after reading the blog, I agree with you said “Sidewalks are for everyone, or at least they are supposed to be”, because I went to over there before, the tables and chairs set up the outdoor of restaurants. I saw that the sidewalks were crowded, especially at lunchtime. But with the privatization of public places, there are some safety problems exists. such as traffic jam, sidewalks jam and safety risks. the truth is lots business does not care about safety problems, they just want to make more money.

  5. Don’t get me wrong I love outdoor seating, but when a business is placed on a narrow block with sidewalks that barely fit 4 people across, there’s no need or sense in having it. Just walking through Manhattan is a pain even if the sidewalk has no detours, but as soon as there’s construction or people outside trying to get you to come inside their story, things can get messy and quite honestly annoying really quickly. At the same time, is sidewalk space such a huge issue that there need to be article written about it? It seems as though people are trying to find new problems to talk about as if there weren’t enough already. This is not to say that sidewalk space isn’t important, especially in a city like New York, but I think we need to focus on some more important issues than how big or little sidewalks are.

  6. With all this process of gentrification, public space and the privatization of it have become a real issue. The thing is that privatization of this space is not only bringing attraction for tourists and outsiders, but as its bringing people from the outside it is also pushing out the people that live around these communities, like you mentioned Crown Heights, Bushwick and Williamsburg, and eventually basic needs that everyone deserves like public space is not so public anymore, because access to it becomes more difficult. Sidewalks should be for everyone, it is so basic that most of us don’t even think about it, but we must realize how important it is for everyone, fortunate and less fortunate.

  7. I mean let’s be real, when you go out with friends to eat somewhere and there’s an out door area its kind of nice. But I do agree that it’s unfair to people’s public space such as a sidewalk being privatized by a local business. It’s difficult when you think about it because I feel the side walk is a bit of a grey area (pun intended…) The problem is as an owner of the property much like a home owner, the restaurant owner is probably trying to take advantage of the side walk as a way to attract more customers for their local business. See the grey area about side walks are that they are a government owned public space, maintained by the private owners of businesses or houses for that particular part of the sidewalk. For example if someone slips and falls on the side walk in front of a private owned property they can sue the owner who was suppose to keep the side walk clean. So I guess owners must feel some entitlement to the risk and dealings of the side walk they privatize. But as to how much space they are aloud to use should be controlled at the least. I’m not trying to side with them or the idea because business that have a backyards can just use that as a sitting area. This is a large part of the gentrification process and when you see it, you’ll know the area you’re in.

  8. I agree with both Shannon and Ashley, when it comes down to it the poorer communities are always pushed away. Our country feeds feeds off of business and consumption, and unfortunately issues like this with side walks are most likely to continue and increase. I feel that the sidewalk is a symbol of a bigger problem with public space. Often times, as we discussed in class, these so called “public spaces” are geared toward a specific group, and the people who cant afford these spaces begin to feel unwelcome and unwanted so many of them leave. Things like this are essntially what allow gentrification to be so succsessful and make it so easy to grow. The American higher and middle class culture feeds into the issues of segregation and seperation in public space more often than not.

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