Syracuse, sidewalks, and snow: the slippery realities of public space

Päivi Rannila, Don Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


This article addresses sidewalks as particular kinds of public spaces. Sidewalks of residential areas have been understudied; debates have tended to concentrate on pedestrian flows in commercial districts. By discussing the snowy sidewalks of Syracuse, New York, this article asks how sidewalks appear in law, and how responsibility for sidewalks is divided between governments and property owners. According to law and ordinances, sidewalks are responsibility of adjacent property owners. Unofficial monitoring has turned property owners’ sidewalk responsibilities away from questions of liability to questions of morality. Sidewalks evince a moral order, where questions concern not only pedestrian flows or laws, but also attitudes of others. A snowy sidewalk appears as a contested moral order, whose publicity is questionable because of the sidewalk’s reliance on private responsibility and policing. In the end, then, this article provides insights into how laws concerning public space are both maintained and questioned in everyday practices, and how the regulatory systems advance—or hinder—the publicity of public spaces like sidewalks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1070-1090
Number of pages21
JournalUrban Geography
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2 2016


  • Public space
  • law
  • moral order
  • responsibility
  • sidewalks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Urban Studies


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