Rauf Belge
6 minutes

Today, most of us live in cities. We experience that life in the city is extremely noisy and fast-paced. In this hustle and bustle, we fail to notice most of the things around us. One of these is sidewalks, which we walk on every day and are an important part of urban life. In this article, we will discuss the spatial functions of sidewalks and their place in our daily lives.

Sidewalks are structures built relatively high above the ground on which people walk. Sidewalks, an important component of urban space, have become a symbol of civilization and development. It is believed that “the level of development of a country is inversely proportional to the height of the sidewalks in that country”. For this reason, sidewalks are not only above-ground structures where pedestrians walk. The height of the pavements above the ground, the material used, their color, pattern and width give important ideas about the welfare level of the city. If you can easily walk on the sidewalks of the city, you are living in a civilized city.

Although sidewalks have become widespread in modern cities, they have a long history. The first sidewalks in history were built in Kültepe (Kayseri) between 2000 and 1990 BC. Under the Romans, who had a developed urban structure, the construction of sidewalks(semita) accelerated. After the Romans, the importance of sidewalks declined, and after a long period of time, they reappeared for the first time after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Especially From the mid-18th century onwards, as boulevards became increasingly common in Paris, sidewalks started to gain importance again. By the late 19th century, sidewalks in major European cities (London, Paris, Vienna, Barcelona, Barcelona, etc.) had become an integral part of crowded streets.[1]

In the post-modern era, where the individual and the human are at the forefront, sidewalks are a spatial structure reserved for people. The pavement is like a barrier between oneself and motor vehicles. One feels safe here. Because the sidewalk is a pedestrianized structure reserved for him and put at his service. In this sense, the sidewalk is a fixed transition space between the dwelling and the road. This area looks at the human side of society. It allows people to move around the city.

Sidewalks are not a structure in themselves. It should be considered together with elements that complement it functionally such as garbage bins, trees, bus stops, electricity poles, street lamps and sidewalks. Sidewalks are also an integral part of the building-road-sidewalk triad. Therefore, sidewalks alone do not mean anything. They are referred to by other uses together with the street they are located on. When we think in this sense, it can be considered as a complement to the streets that make up the cities.

Sidewalks are, in fact, an important part of urban life. There are no sidewalks in rural settlements. There is no need for it anyway. Sidewalks play a critical role in human circulation in neighborhoods where urban life and human mobility are felt the most. Because the density and mobility of people is quite high in cities where large populations live in a narrow area. This activity is mostly observed in the bazaars. In the bazaars, which are the center of the city, human mobility is more intense as the places are close to each other.

Sidewalks have an important role in the formation of socialization and social cohesion. Areas where people come across each other and greet each other. People who walk perceive the city in all its details and their sense of belonging to the city is strengthened. In this way, the individual develops topophilia (love of space). Sidewalks are home to flankers, sometimes called travelers in the city. In this sense, sidewalks appear as humane architectural structures.

Sidewalks, home to thousands of trees, increase the visual quality of the street and clean the air. Trees on the sidewalk reduce street noise and provide shade in hot weather. In scorching hot cities, it gives a feeling of coolness to those walking on the sidewalk, shopkeepers and other street dwellers. Street trees, which serve as hosts for birds living in the city, remind us of the beauties of nature. Trees are also an important step towards a healthier, livable and greener urbanism.

On the other hand, there is misuse of sidewalks. Sidewalks, whose primary purpose is to provide pedestrian flow, are observed to be used for different purposes. Sidewalks are sometimes occupied by tables and chairs as a result of the overflow of café-restaurants. It is a common negative phenomenon that some shops display some of their products on the sidewalks. Cars, the greatest enemy of the sidewalks, are the biggest occupying force. Vehicles are parked on the sidewalk, especially on narrow streets and alleys. This situation disrupts pedestrian flow and creates an ugly appearance.

Although pavements are a physical structure, they sometimes carry abstract meanings. They are sometimes associated with loneliness, homelessness and stray animals. We feel this feeling the most in Necip Fazıl’s poem Kaldırımlar. In the poem, whose name is identified with the poet, the imagination of loneliness in the dark of night is embodied on the sidewalks. The poem reminds us that sidewalks, a physical structure, carry an abstract and imaginary meaning. Therefore, sidewalks that serve pedestrian circulation can be a symbol and image for the city.

In the modern period, the human element has come to the fore in the city. In parallel with this, pedestrianized streets and avenues have recently been increasing in Turkish cities. Local governments have planned central streets in the city where only pedestrians can walk and no motorized vehicles are allowed to enter or exit. For example, Istiklal Street in Istanbul, Çınar in Denizli and Yarenlik Alanı in Tarsus are the commercial heart of the city and symbolic places with the highest pedestrian traffic.

Due to the above-mentioned functions of sidewalks, it is one of the most important issues to be considered when planning the city. Sidewalks, which are the base of cities, should have an aesthetic structure and be functional. A city form and culture where sidewalks are not occupied should be created. Design sidewalks suitable for the use of people with disabilities and children.

The sidewalks are the mother of lonely loners;

The sidewalks are a person who has lived inside me.

The sidewalks, you can hear, the sound when the sound stops;

Sidewalks are a language that curls inside me

Necip Fazil Kısakürek.

[1] Loukaitou-Sederis, A. and R. Ehrenfeucht. (2009). Sidewalks: Conflict and Negotiation Over Public Space. The MIT Press, Cambridge MA. s.15-17.

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