Commissioner’s Column: In praise of sidewalks

Ward 3 Commissioner Anne Swager Wilson

I am a fan of sidewalks. During my time in Mt. Lebanon, I have lived in five different houses in five different neighborhoods. My favorite houses have been the ones with sidewalks. This is not meant to cast aspersions on neighborhoods without sidewalks. Mt. Lebanon is filled with great neighborhoods, many with sidewalks and many without. So why do I gravitate toward neighborhoods with sidewalks?

I have an ever-increasing patch of nutsedge in my front yard. Several years ago, there was a small leak in a gas line in my front yard. The gas company dug up most of the front yard before they could find the leak, repair it and then backfill the yard. In the spring, a landscape contractor hired by the gas company reseeded the yard. Before you knew it, I had a patch of nutsedge. The first year we tried dire steps to get rid of it which did not work. My gardening friends tell me that pulling it up by its roots is the only effective way to eradicate it. So, periodically, you will find me in my front yard tugging away at nutsedge in my futile dance to get rid of the stuff.

If you happen to be walking on my sidewalk while I am tugging at the nutsedge, I will probably say hello to you and perhaps even engage in a back and forth about the weather or the evils of nutsedge. I can’t help but feel that even though you are on the sidewalk, you are also in my front yard. It gives me a perfect opportunity to get to know a new neighbor or pass the time with one I have not seen throughout the long grey Pittsburgh winter. It’s a friendly neighborhood spot for passing the time, exchanging a nod or just a smile.

Mt. Lebanon prides itself on its walkability. Whether or not to put sidewalks on every street has been an issue often discussed, debated and not easily resolved. We have had an ordinance in place for many years that allows neighborhoods following certain steps to have a sidewalk put in. Parents of young children are typically pretty keen to improve the safety of school walking routes but even seniors and other walkers have weighed in. On the initial comment period for the comprehensive plan, the need for more sidewalks or more walking opportunities emerged as a primary concern. As I write this, several community members have begun an effort to update the policy with an eye toward giving neighborhoods more self-determination over sidewalks. I look forward to seeing their progress.

The polarization of our country has been written about extensively. Recent studies on how to mitigate polarization have focused on the value of just talking with one another. Apparently, when we talk to each other we realize we have more in common than not. Public spaces, whether they are sidewalks, parks or small neighborhood green spaces, can play a role in reviving conversations. As the weather warms, I hope to see you on my sidewalk or around town. Perhaps you have some suggestions on how to get rid of nutsedge.