Where the Sidewalk Starts: Randy Garbin Wants Walkable Communities
Oct 31, 2016 08:30AM
When did you become interested in walkable communities? After years of traveling the country, visiting hundreds of other communities and learning how they have thrived or declined, I found myself in a unique position to compare our progress in Jenkintown against similar neighborhoods. In the summer of 2015, my wife and I embarked on efforts to change a local ordinance that proved ineffective to any walkable community.
Why are walkable communities important? No place is perfect, and they all have their quirks, but when they do things right, it shows in their downtowns, their parks, their schools and certainly their streetscapes. We opted to live in Jenkintown precisely for its commitment to a traditional development pattern. Its street grid features a charm that is a major draw for its residents, and much of a community’s charm comes from its walkability.
What are more walkable towns doing differently? Like the rest of Pennsylvania, Jenkintown requires its homeowners to take direct financial responsibility for the repair of their abutting sidewalks and curbs, all of which belong to the Borough. This ordinance results in an over-priced, haphazard patchwork of sidewalk styles, conditions and qualities.
Some towns have applied more creative and equitable approaches. The city of Ithaca, New York, for instance, assesses a flat fee of $70 per year for most residents, less than half of what we currently pay for trash pickup, to fund a municipal program that maintains and fixes the city’s sidewalks. For most Jenkintown residents, this amounts to a tax increase of less than five percent.
How can people get involved locally? People and businesses seeking to invest in a walkable community should demand their municipality embrace public goods as public responsibilities. The budgets of these communities will need to reflect that policy and place a high priority on the quality of its pedestrian experience. We, as advocates for that experience, must press this point with far more force than we have in the past.
How can people start a movement like this? Start by thinking, “Maybe we can improve,” and be happy to do your part in a shared effort. A better planned, more equitable approach will certainly bring a community greater benefits than it has now.
Randy Garbin is a resident of Jenkintown and former publisher of Roadside Magazine, which explored the back roads and main streets of America and the culture of the great American diner. For more information, visit WalkableJenkintown.com.