‘The sidewalk belongs to everyone’ is a phrase you sometimes hear when a difference of opinion arises over the use of public space. That’s how the pedestrian sees it — and the inhabitants of towns where pavements exist. But is this still really the case? Is the sidewalk still a public space that can be freely used by everyone in all circumstances?
Isabelle Baraud-Serfaty, a specialist in urban matters, raises the question here and shows how the sidewalks that run beside our towns’ roadways have evolved over time. From being a symbol of the ‘infrastructure city’, they have become a relevant issue in the age of the new mobilities and functionalities associated with the ‘smart’ city. In this regard, the sidewalk is increasingly becoming a coveted space for the operators of digital platforms: a new ‘data’ level is developing on the sidewalk (or, more particularly, the curb), which can be exploited for providing services to users, but also for commercial ends. It has, in fact, become essential, according to Baraud-Serfaty for towns and local authorities to integrate the sidewalk into their public governance of urban spaces, and for it to be regulated, so that the information it conveys or harbours isn’t seized or monetized by private operators at the expense of users. Lastly, these developments require us to regard sidewalks and, going beyond that, what she calls the urban ‘ground level’ as new — strategic — ‘commons’, whose public interest functions must be preserved.