Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2020/ Snow Shovelling

Snow Shovelling

There is a debate going on whether the city should take over shovelling of residential sidewalks. This will cost a fair amount of money and (if my experience in downtown Kitchener is any guide) an enormous amount of salt. But I think that sooner or later municipal shovelling advocates will win. The problem with individual households shovelling their own walkways is that of the bad apple: if a street has 20 houses, and 19 of them are shovelled promptly and well, the street remains unusable, because people using walkers/strollers/wheelchairs/canes will get stuck at the one unshovelled house. Personally, I feel there are intermediate positions between "we expect homeowners to do their shovelling and do next to no enforcement for those who don't" to "the city will shovel sidewalks for every single residence," but I do not think we are grown up enough to discuss such nuances.

I am not opposed to having clear sidewalks. I have seen the mobility challenges uncleared sidewalks cause. But when municipal sidewalk-clearing happens, I think we will lose two important things.

Sidewalk-shovelling time is one of the few times we are likely to see our neighbours. Unlike lawn-mowing, everybody tends to shovel their walks on the same days, and many will shovel at approximately the same times. These interactions are admittedly weak. I rarely if ever interact with my neighbours when I see them shovelling their walks. But we don't have any strong interactions left. We stay in our houses and barely acknowledge that our neighbours exist, unless (a) we are personal friends with them or (b) they are being disruptive and we are in conflict with them. A lot of people would argue that this obliviousness carries no consequence, but I disagree. Geographic proximity matters.

Perhaps more importantly, sidewalk-shovelling is one of the few remaining obligations we have to our communities. Few of us rely upon our own sidewalks being shovelled, but there are others around us who rely upon us doing our duty and shovelling. Now we will outsource that duty to the government, further undermining the idea that we have any obligations to our community at all. We think that paying our taxes is sufficient service to others, but again I disagree.

Neither of these concerns are going to sway anybody who wants municipal shovelling. Maybe they shouldn't. But the costs are still there, and we only feel their effects much later. This is how people die in their homes and are not discovered for weeks. This is part of the reason we feel disconnected and lonely. Counterintuitively, all of our online distractions have made these problems worse, not better, and they have left us poorer socially.