Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sidewalk Shortage...

There is a subject that has been very much bugging me lately - sidewalks. Sounds like a simple thing, but these days, sidewalks seem an ignored and neglected thing, due to plentiful private cars and a society that no longer walks. I began my stroll on this mortal coil in the East Lake section of Birmingham. This is part of the "core area" of Birmingham, built from 1871 - the early 1940s. When I was a mere kidlet in East Lake, starting from the intersection of 10th Av south and 81st St, one could actually travel through the East Lake, Woodlawn, Wahouma, and Avondale communities, through downtown Birmingham, through the Elyton and West End areas, to Fair Park, a distance of more than 25 miles, on sidewalks.
In the post WWII era, residential suburbs began to sprout up, and formed different communities, and the sidewalk paradigm came to an end.
My address is in Trussville, Alabama. Trussville began as a depression-era government project in the mid-1930s, in a flat valley encompassing part of the Cahaba River. The land was unsuitable for farming, but was suitable for suburban housing. Fired by the vision of project manager W. H. Kestler, the "Cahaba Project" went up, opening in April 1938. Homes were sturdily built, with indoor plumbing, running water, electricity, septic systems, and amenities rare at that time in much of Alabama. The project included 287 residential units, duplexes and single-family homes, all of which still stand today. The government also built a high school and cooperative store, interspersing the area with malls, paved streets and parks. And sidewalks - sidewalks everywhere. After WWII, development went on, but no longer included the sidewalks, as the postwar booming economy was selling everyone cars! Trussville, named after Warren Truss, who settled in the area in 1820 and built a mill on the Cahaba river, incorporated as a city in 1948.
Today, Trussville has "sprawled" into separated residential communities, major shopping areas, and all the goodies that go with being a modern small city. There is no way to get anywhere on foot (in my case, by mobility scooter). From the original housing area, The sidewalks end at Main St. (which is also US Hiway 11) and in the other direction at Trussville-Clay Road. There is a major supermarket across Main St, but no way to get there on foot. There are traffic lights but no marked pedestrian crossings, and getting across on foot would be an extreme adventure, and of course, if one makes it across the street safely, there are no sidewalks on the other side. In the original core neighborhood, there are no businesses, and only an elementary school, in the original high school building. The community center used to be there, but now has been replaced with a much larger, more modern center near the new middle and high schools, and none of these have foot access. What a shame.
My maternal grandmother lived in the city of Fairfield for 60 years, and did not own a car. Fairfield is an old town in the Alabama sense, originally incorporated under the name Corey in 1911. And yes, there were sidewalks everywhere, built as part of the original city planning. My grandmother did her shopping, churchgoing, bill paying, and whatever business by walking sidewalks, from her home on 41st street to downtown, with her hand-truck-looking shopping basket. My mother and her siblings traveled to school, to the park, and wherever else, on sidewalks.
How we have changed...

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