Guest Op-Ed: How I Became a Streetwalker

By Alison Barnet

It happened one day on Washington Street. I had my eyes on the ground—not up at passing male motorists–sure that a chain of long brick lumps in the sidewalk was behind me. All of a sudden, I fell. Well, it wasn’t the first time!

​Most of the South End’s sidewalks are uneven, rough, ragged, jagged, broken, hazardous, precarious, unreliable, icy and dicey. Some of them are worse than others: holes, loose bricks, ridges, dips, bulges, bumps, lumps, swellings, gaps, cracks, breaks, ridges, and puddles. Tree roots are a large part of the problem, apparently never addressed when the sidewalks were first laid down. Walking around here is what a friend sarcastically describes as “the joy of urban living.”

​Oddly, one of the worst is in front of Boston Medical Center, a stretch of loose and uneven bricks and holes. Once someone I know fell in a hole there while on a history walk. Although the hospital filled it in, it didn’t attend to the rest of the block. And this is where many people run to catch the bus!

​“These brick sidewalks are a hundred years old!” a drunk neighbor once yelled at me, referring to their supposed historic value. “No, Tim, I was here when they laid them down in the late 1970s, 1980.” Stabbing at the sidewalk: “You don’t know anything! These brick sidewalks are a hundred years old!”

​Worse than Tim for me are the people who say, “Oh, but they look so nice, just like Beacon Hill!” Well, no comment on the bricks of Beacon Hill, but why are brick sidewalks such a class issue with people? Shouldn’t safety come before fashion?

​In front of some of our new, expensive condo buildings are uneven bricks and hollows with big puddles of water when it rains. I’m tempted to add irony to realtors’ signs: “Luxury condos, luxury sidewalks!”

​Granted, young people seem to have no trouble walking on the sidewalks. They run, wear high-heels, hold a cell phone in front of their faces and somehow don’t tumble.

​Wanna go out? Suddenly streetwalker takes on a new meaning, and I’ve become one. I now walk out in the street, listening for cars behind me, moving over and pausing for delivery trucks and speeders, second-guessing parked cars and all those who don’t use directionals. Occasionally, a driver yells, “Why aren’t you walking on the sidewalk?” And I answer, “Have you seen the sidewalk?”

​At least, there is social bonding. Streetwalkers, people in wheelchairs, on canes, and walkers, and us old folks all know why we’re there and greet each other in a friendly fashion. How often does that happen on the sidewalk?Alison Barnet is a South End resident and the author of five

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