Our small town has received a rare gift from the Federal Government. Thanks to President Obama’s Stimulus package we have just had sidewalks installed. Sidewalks, being such a common feature of daily life, are something we easily take for granted, yet they provide many unanticipated benefits in terms of the health and spirit of a community. Though we have only had ours for a few days, our town is already experiencing significant changes.
Ours is a tiny rural Upstate New York village, technically called a hamlet due to its small size. Comprised of modest houses and farms, built along a well-traveled state road, it has a town hall; a general store, a diner, a post office, two churches, two bars, two car repair shops, a post office as well as other businesses. However, walking to these local establishments was something of a hazard.
There had once, long ago, been something like sidewalks in this village. Yet they were provided at the discretion of each homeowner. Some had been laid down at least a hundred years ago and were made of now chipped and shattered slate; others were blocks of cement that had broken into fragments and had gotten half-buried under tree roots and grass. Walking into town demanded careful attention to one’s feet if one was to avoid a sprained ankle or a serious fall caused by tripping over uneven ground.
Thus, I had long noticed that people, particularly our elderly neighbors, tended to drive their car to these destinations, even when they lived nearby. Who could blame them?
Then we got our new sidewalks. Visually, our area was transformed from a disconnected string of houses to a more substantial village. Remarkably, within a day, even before some of the cement sections had fully dried, people have been out walking: to get groceries; to have breakfast; to mail a letter. Last evening, as a hot day began to cool, several couples that I rarely see took an evening stroll as if walking on a boardwalk.
Neighbors, who normally pop in and out of their cars with hardly a wave, were chatting with each other. People also stopped into the local grocery store as they passed by and made a purchase.
The positive changes were clear: In just a short time, our local citizens got some extra exercise, saved money on gas, burned less fossil fuel, patronized local businesses and enjoyed a renewed sense of community. Most importantly, the sidewalk project, which the town alone could never have afforded, gave our village a psychological boost. It has helped instill a new sense of pride in the beauty and charm of our neighborhood.