What is a Sidewalk For?

February 3, 2011
in Category: Articles, BC Politics, Canadian Politics, Civil Rights, Society
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What is a Sidewalk For?

Municipal engineers have a lot more power over city life and politics than most of us realize.


It’s an academic lecture about sidewalks. Could I have even dreamed up an event that sounded more inconsequentially mind-numbing?

But on this cold, rainy, January night, the little Legacy Art Gallery and Café, as part of the University of Victoria’s “City Talks” lectures, has drawn nearly a hundred provincial and municipal bureaucrats, business owners, artists, developers, lawyers, students, urban gardeners, civil rights activists, anarchists… Why on Earth would all these people be so interested in sidewalks?

Within the hour the answer becomes clear, as Simon Fraser University’s Nicholas Blomley delivers a surprisingly riveting overview of the role of sidewalks in social control.

Blomley is a “legal geographer” who specializes in “property and its relationship to the politics of urban space.” His new book sounds similarly recondite: Rights of Passage—Sidewalks and the Regulation of Public Flow. However, much like his earlier work on homelessness, First Nations dispossession, and community gardens, Blomley adeptly straddles abstract academia and on-the-ground activism.

“What is a sidewalk for?” he begins, and it’s soon apparent this seemingly benign question holds the seeds of intense urban conflict.

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1 comment on “What is a Sidewalk For?”

  1. 4q2 says:

    i remember in the early 60,s downtown victoria. a song that was popular at the time started out with, standing on the corner watching all the girls go by.so i decided to stand on a corner and watch the girls go by. keep in mind that i was ten at that time. my time on the corner lasted about ten minutes. a police cruiser pulled up to the corner and asked me what i was doing. i said i was watching the girls go by. i was asked for id. at ten years old of course i had none. i then was asked if i had any money, of course i had none. i was then told that if i did not move on , i would be charged with vagrancy. i had no choice but to move on. some things never change.

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