Sidewalks, Snow and Class Privilege

CBC Ottawa Morning asked the following question on Twitter today:

Would you be willing to shovel your own sidewalk if it meant quicker, more efficient snow plowing on the streets?

As municipal policy, this is clearly a horrid idea, for the many reasons mentioned in reply. Primarily, making the city less walkable is exactly the opposite of what we need to do if we want to create a vibrant city. Unless you live your life one parking garage to the next, you’re going to need to use our sidewalks. Even in winter, we need to make sure everyone can get around.

This policy would just further privilege cars over everyone else.

There are, of course, a number of other good reasons that this is bad policy. Mobility would be dependent on the compliance of your neighbours. And what if you have mobility issues? What if you’re unable to shovel snow? What if you’re away or sick? Basically, why do we think so little of our city that we would adopt a policy that would keep people from doing anything in the city? In addition, this places an added and uneven obligation on some residents, but not on others.

And, of course, sometimes a sidewalk looks like this:


There’s no way that’s shovel-able.

Beyond all that, though, there is a question of class and privilege.

First, this favours those with cars over those without cars. I’m pretty confident in suggesting that the more money you have, the more likely it is that you really on driving as a primary mode of transportation. So this would disproportionately favour the wealthy.

Second, we can basically think of this as a form of taxation, except instead of paying in money, you pay in time and effort. If you have the money, the need and the ability to store a snowblower, your obligation suddenly becomes much easier and much faster. Basically, your tax burden is lowered by buying a snowblower.

If you don’t have a driveway or a car, if you don’t have a place to store a snowblower and, most importantly, if you don’t have the money , you’re not buying a snowblower. Buying a snowblower will equate to buying privilege, of buying your way out of much of your civic obligation.

(The same goes if you can just afford to hire someone to do your snow clearing.)

That’s pretty gross. This policy would be incredibly regressive. It would be the most cynical and selfish of moves. It would make us an absolute failure as a city and a community

Of course, there’s no sign that we’re heading towards this policy…even if we effectively got it last week. The city has set priorities, and sidewalks and bike lanes are not neglected. Last year, the city was pretty good at adhering to its snow clearing standards, and I tend to expect the city to do better in future storms.

Really, this was just a media organization trying to stir things up.

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