top of page
  • Jack H. Bender

The Amazing Sidewalk

I’ve always had an interest in home design and have enjoyed reading about what others consider to be the best roof design or where the kitchen should go in relationship to other rooms or the sun. One can follow all sorts of home design threads, including where one’s house should be located within the city.

One day I put on my big boy pants and checked out a serious classic from the library entitled The Death and Life of Great American Cities, written by Jane Jacobs. Imagine my surprise to find a picture at the very front of the book of a few tables positioned on the sidewalk outside of JP’s Coffee Shop in Downtown Holland, Michigan! Heated sidewalks, coffee, one-of-a-kind stores, tulips, street performers. What’s not to like?

Sidewalks are important. Let’s compare the experiences residents have when one residential area has sidewalks and another area does not.

In an area without sidewalks it’s dangerous to walk in the street. Street drainage can be worse than sidewalk drainage, adding an additional negative. The solution for a non-sidewalk area is the car. Get in and drive the car and you’ve solved both problems. But the social glue in the neighborhood without sidewalks may not be very sticky. Pedestrians and people in cars don’t form life-giving relationships. It’s difficult to develop bonds when one of the parties is going five to ten times the speed of the other.

An area with sidewalks has the potential of helping residents meet, share life stories, news and resources. Imagine what might happen when two people greet each other, offer their names and hint that they want to know more. What might follow after one of them says:

I’m a detective

These tools are from the community tool shed

I give piano lessons

I’m a vet

I’ve got too many tomatoes

My cell phone battery is dead

I’m an associate pastor at

Is that a walkie-talkie in your hand?

Can I help carrying those groceries?

What breed is your dog?

Where can I catch the Max?

For those experiencing poverty, stable housing is critical to begin moving out of poverty. If stable housing is located in an area that has sidewalks, networking becomes more likely and developing friendships relieves the severe isolation that those in poverty experience. The inability to give to the community is also hampered by poverty. The relationships that develop in a neighborhood need not be one way. Everyone has something to offer. Sidewalks can lay the groundwork for networking, healthy relationships and the chance to exchange time, talent and treasure.

Let’s leverage this powerful feature of our neighborhoods. Greet someone, then go deeper.


bottom of page