BY CYNthia LEE, UCLA TODAY
Questions for Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris
Sidewalk Scholar Why did you decide to devote an entire book to the sidewalk? Most authors and social scientists do not tend to see the sidewalk as a unique piece of the urban environment. But as public space, sidewalks are everywhere and link everything, and no one seems to notice them. My co-author and I began noticing newspaper articles about contemporary conflicts over sidewalks, from Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris street vending and street prostitution to demonstrations. These conflicts have grown serious enough to reach the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of First Amendment rights.
Do you mean public speaking was banned from sidewalks? Back in the early 20th century, some U.S. cities began banning public speaking on sidewalks in downtown areas. There were parts of downtown San Diego and Los Angeles where people could not give a public speech. That was a time when the Socialist Party was emerging, and unions like the Industrial Workers of the World were becoming more vocal. Many merchants wanted to shut them down. A lot of local municipal councils began banning public speaking on sidewalks. More recently, in 1999, when demonstrations broke out in Seattle at a meeting of the World Trade Organization, cities became very much afraid of such disruptions and the way these images were sent all over the world via satellite TV. So cities became extremely careful about where public speaking was allowed. Not only were permits required, but cities and police
created “protest pens,” where you were allowed to exercise your First Amendment rights. In Los Angeles in 2000 at the Democratic National Convention at the Staples Center, you could only demonstrate in an area where conventioneers could not see you.
What first intrigued you about sidewalks? Coming from Athens, Greece, where there is a very intensive use of sidewalks, I experienced a cultural shock when I first came to this country in 1983 as a graduate student and saw that sidewalks were empty in most places. This was so much in contrast to my own life experiences. I always had this question: Why are American sidewalks empty? What happened to the pedestrians? The book really responds to these questions.
How has the use of sidewalks been discouraged in American cities? Part of it is the way our cities have been designed. We have built cities that are not very interesting to walk in. In many cities, you walk next to blank walls; there’s nothing to look at. Cities with long blocks or very wide streets are not very convenient for walking. There are a lot of streets in the inner city that have sidewalks, but absolutely no street trees, so there’s no shade. All these physical elements discourage walking. There are few areas in L.A. where you would gladly walk. And then there are some cities that are much more fortunate, like San Francisco or New York, where you have more mixed uses.
What American cities do the best job of promoting sidewalk-walking? East coast cities have a longer history of mixed use. Having mixed uses—where, for example, supermarkets occupy the ground floor of a building and apartments are on the upper continued on the following page
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