SIDEWALK WARS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I never really gave sidewalks much thought. If I had thought about them at all, I would have imagined they had always existed, which is only partially true.

The first sidewalks came into being around 2000 B.C. – a millennium or two after the invention of the wheel. Here’s the interesting part: they were rare luxuries in most of the world until as late as the 19th Century.

Ancient Roman road with no sidewalk

That’s when big cities like London and Paris built hundreds of miles of sidewalks to deal with the chaos in the roadways. Until then, “For most of human history, vehicles, pedestrians, vendors, musicians, drinkers and strolling lovers all mingled in the same amorphous muck of the avenue.” Washington Post, June 30, 2019, “The Death of the Sidewalk,” by Avi Selk.

The 1800s saw the first attempt to make the roadways more efficient by dividing them up into sections with regulated use designated for each section. The word “jaywalking” didn’t even exist until the early 20th century. That’s the first time pedestrians were fined for using the part of the street where they weren’t supposed to be.

Non-walkers were also penalized for using the sidewalks without proper authorization. Cities started prohibiting and/or regulating all kinds of sidewalk activities, like vendors, food stands, musicians, panhandlers, and prostitutes.

Cobbled street with narrow sidewalk

The division of space into walkers and vehicles eroded over time with bicyclists and stationary homeless people, among others, invading the precious territory of the walkers. Cities kept coming up with new limitations, like bike lanes, to try to deal with the problems that came up. But as vehicles became more prevalent, from horse-drawn carts to trolleys to cars, streets got widened and sidewalks narrowed.

Urban bike lanes

In 1896, The Times started a “Crusade against the sidewalk grabbers.” It wrote, “The pedestrians now … must spend their time in a hurdle race over skids, climb platforms, dodge moving boxes or else run the risk of being crushed under horses’ hooves in the street.” Washington Post article cited above. Apparently, pedestrians felt they had to fight for a safe walking space among the vendors and construction crews that were encroaching on their walking space.

Today there’s a new threat to the safety and sanity of pedestrians all across America.

Electric scooters are usurping sidewalk space at a dangerous, 10, 15 or even 20 miles per hour. They clog the sidewalks, endangering walkers and creating obstacles when they are left strewn carelessly in the streets. There have been many reported injuries from collisions as well as from people tripping over randomly abandoned scooters.

Scooters on a modern city street

As in the past, there’s a backlash of pedestrians trying to “… restore the sanctity of the sidewalk, with anti-scooter vigilantes appearing wherever the machines do.” Washington Post article. Disgusted pedestrians are throwing scooters into dumpsters and rivers, setting them on fire and hanging them from bridges. So cities now have to try to make peace in the scooter/pedestrian wars. Washington, D.C is experimenting with solar-powered charging docks in the hopes of getting people to stop dumping scooters wherever they happen to stop.

Another possible solution is limiting scooters to the bike lanes, where those already exist. Nashville gave up trying to negotiate a cease-fire and is trying to ban scooters from the sidewalks entirely.

Scooters left randomly on the street

Understanding the history of urban roadways gives perspective to the current sidewalk wars. This situation keeps cropping up periodically as new uses for sidewalks come into vogue. Cities have been dealing with these issues for centuries so this will be resolved over time – until the next sidewalk crisis emerges.

RURAL LIFE AND THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE – Marilyn Armstrong

Los Angeles County is bigger in population than at least 40 entire states. Not only does it have a huge population — more than 10 million and counting — but it is physically bigger than the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Probably physically larger than a few other states, too — like Rhode Island and Deleware.

This is because in California, they can (and do) keep making counties and cities bigger and bigger as the population swells. Other places have a thing called “city and county limits,” but California doesn’t. In California, there are no limits.

Because L.A. County is so big, many people declare that the Electoral College is a scam. This presumes that the only criteria for power ought to be population density. In a pure democracy, which the U.S. isn’t, that would theoretically be true.

In fact, almost no country is a pure democracy. In most parliamentary countries, you are not voting for individuals but a party platform so even though a very unpopular government can be brought down for a new election, who actually represents you? It’s up to the party. If we think party politics is totally nuts in this country, trust me, it’s wacko most other places too.

In the U.S., we believe in bigger is better. Take away the Electoral College and the largest, most densely populated areas would rule the country. Is that good or bad?

I suppose that depends on whether you agree with whoever wins and whether or not you believe they are going to address your local issues.

I understand people who live in big cities will definitely feel they get cheated by the electoral college because it’s intended as a field-leveling tool. It’s not democratic and it’s not supposed to be. But, in the U.S., our motto has always been “bigger is better.” Whether it’s businesses, cities, schools or whatever — we like’em big. More always wins while less doesn’t count.

The problem is, I think I should count too, no matter how big Los Angeles County becomes.

The electoral college is not a scam. It has been grossly mismanaged and misused, but the concept is sound. It has needed a massive, non-political overhaul for a very long time. As a result of gerrymandering and political chicanery, it may finally be obsolete, but that’s because we’ve turned it into yet one more political football. If we lost the electoral college, what will be the next political football? I’m sure we’ll find one.

If we want to retain the concept of being a “Constitutional Republic,” we need a better way to count votes. We also need more votes from more people in more places. We need a fully voting population of at least 50% because otherwise, how can we claim that most people are represented when most people don’t vote at all?

The point of having an Electoral College was to prevent Los Angeles, New York, and Texas from overwhelming Worcester County or for that matter, all of New England from Connecticut to Maine.

In a town like this where we don’t even have a bus or a taxi, how likely are we to have similar requirements to Los Angeles or New York or even Boston? I’m from New York and I love it, but this town has different needs. Large cities would barely consider Uxbridge worth noticing. Even in Massachusetts, Boston and its nearby suburbs get most of the attention — and the money. The rest of us in more rural areas — actually rural is most of the Commonwealth — we beg for scraps.

What if Boston itself becomes one of the scraps? Where do we fit in then?

If only big cities run everything, what happens to small towns? Will anyone notice we’re here? Would anyone care we’re here? I’m not sure anyone cares now, so are rural areas officially obsolete?

We don’t even make it into the weather reports.

Before everyone jumps on the “ban the Electoral College” bus, maybe you should wonder if the place you live would fit into a world where only big cities seem to have a say in what gets done.

Does the Electoral College need overhauling? Absolutely. But maybe not elimination. It isn’t a scam. It is, however, a major constitutional issue that urgently needs repairing. It was never supposed to be a political tool — for either party. Like so many other parts of our government, it is being used for purposes for which it was never intended. Kind of like the Senate and maybe, the Supreme Court. And the presidency.

URBAN LIFE – A PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Urban

So the subject of the exercise is “urban.” I thought I’d start off with a picture of where we currently live. We didn’t always live in the country. In fact, until 19 years ago we lived in Boston. Before that, I lived in the city of Jerusalem and was raised in New York, in the borough of Queens.

With some years in Hempstead, which is a semi-urban suburb of New York, until we moved out here, we were always city folks. it has taken a bit of getting used to!

Be it ever so humble

So here’s a bit of Boston — Fenway Park, Beacon Hill, the Wharf … and more.

CITYSCAPE: A PHOTO A WEEK – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Cityscape/Townscape

I love shooting in town. We used to get into town a lot more often than we do now. Admittedly, we get into Uxbridge often, but there isn’t a lot of Uxbridge to shoot. It’s a very small town and all the towns in the area a small. Boston has a lot to offer, but it’s a long drive with terrible traffic, bad roads, and incredibly expensive parking and we go there only rarely these days.

Schubert Theater, Boston, 2014
Fenway Park 2018

The city has spent literally billions of dollars to redesign the roads. They look better, but the traffic is even worse. They made the roads straighter and one of the worst ones now runs underground so you don’t have to see what a terrible mess it is. But the mess is there and for me, the idea of bumper-to-bumper traffic in an endless tunnel is not an improvement. Just breathing would be traumatic.

Brookline
Parking on the street!

So we stay here in the country. Our city pictures all date from 2016 or earlier. That’s how it will remain. I don’t see the traffic, parking, or distance getting easier, cheaper, or shorter.

On the street
Symphony Hall, Boston

PEEING IN THE STREETS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’ve been reading about an urban problem that I thought was solved with the invention of the indoor toilet. Apparently, Paris is so plagued by men peeing in the streets, that they have taken action to mitigate the worst effects of this phenomenon.

In the Middle Ages in Europe, people emptied bedpans out their windows onto the streets below. Then indoor plumbing made this practice obsolete. So walking on the street became less dangerous and unpredictable, But it seems that even today, men don’t accept the concept of exclusively indoor, bathroom urinating. They still want to relieve themselves wherever and whenever they want. Including on public streets.

This public peeing creates two separate problems, affecting two of the senses. First, there’s the problem of odors permeating public streets, often in upscale and tourist neighborhoods. Then there’s the visual assault of people having to watch men peeing in public.

The City Council of Paris has addressed the problem. Their solution was to install urinals around Paris to discourage pedestrians from relieving themselves randomly on the streets of the city.

Enter the ‘Uritrottoir’, or sidewalk urinal. It’s bright red, is free-standing and open on all sides. It’s filled with straw and uses the nitrogen and other chemicals in the urine to produce organic compounds. This supposedly eliminates odors. That may at least solve the smell problem.

But Parisians are complaining that the open design of the urinals does not prevent passersby, including tourists on Seine cruises, from having to watch men relieving themselves. Sensitive Parisians also dislike the bold design and color of the urinals. They are considered an eyesore, particularly in historic and quaint areas.

Apparently, public urination has always been a problem, around the world. Some cities in Germany have come up with more creative ways to discourage public peeing. In Munich, there’s a walkway between the soccer stadium and the subway which suffers from a disproportionate amount of drunken peeing. So the city is looking to install a long strip of un-planted flower beds that would go over a giant tank. It would have bark chips in it to reduce odor so men could pee in it at will.

I like Hamburg’s solution better. Some locals in Hamburg have been coating the walls of buildings in ‘splash creating, urine retardant’ paint. This paint is used in ship hulls. What it does is coat the urinater in his own pee.

Poetic justice!

I don’t understand the psychology of men who do this. Women don’t have the option and they manage to hold it in until they find a bathroom. What is wrong with men? Do they feel entitled? Do they have no modesty or shame? Are parents remiss when they toilet train their sons? WTF!

I’m also appalled that this is a universal problem in 2018. I guess we are not as evolved as I hoped.

I didn’t need another reason to be grateful that I left the city and moved to the country. I guess the universe wanted me to feel particularly good about abandoning urban life.

I have to watch my dogs pee in the backyard, but that’s not an affront to civilization.

Men peeing on city streets is.

STREETLIGHTS: A PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Street Lights


Streetlights. I love them! Especially in a city when the streets are a little wet from recent rain. The street light reflects in rainbow colors and the neon signs make a night in the city glow in a million colors.

Night near Symphony Hall
Strangers in the night?
Home. Downtown
Theater district
Night near the theaters

THE LIGHTS OF NIGHT – A PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Light the Night

I love shooting at night. I don’t do it as often as I used to, probably because we don’t get out at night nearly as much as we used to. I still have a few pictures saved. Being on vacation, there are a lot of pictures I can’t access because they are on the other computer or external drives.

However, I think these will do.

The theater district, before the show
Downtown, night
Uxbridge, winter, night
Gibbous moon at night