The sidewalk is a public place, a physical space for “we, the people” to freely access any time to reach our destination, without the need to indebt ourselves to a bank for an automobile and generally move about our day as a societal collective towards our respective purposes as is the norm in any civilisation.
To this I make claim that the sidewalk is the state’s prerogative for our very basic minimum standard in quality of life; our right for personal liberty and freedom of movement.
Despite the promise in the Federal Constitution of Malaysia of personal liberty and freedom of movement, this promise is not really acted upon in practical reality. You can’t simply walk out of your house and traverse the whole city.
The majority of our sidewalks are in a great state of disrepair. Walking on a sidewalk in Kuala Lumpur is a hazard. It means jumping about over big cracks to the abrupt asphalt end of the sidewalk or coming about face with a tree, a lamp post or signboard or just simply ruining your shoes from the uneven unmaintained sidewalks. Mothers are disadvantaged because our sidewalks are generally stroller-unfriendly, let alone disabled people. Walking, although a simple pleasure in many great cities in the world, definitely does not yield the equivalent pleasure in Kuala Lumpur.
So what does this mean?
Bad sidewalks mean people avoid walking. Less walking means daily encounters with strangers become less common. This arguably diminishes your tolerance for diversity and encourages distrust in persons different from you. Alternately, it could also mean the usual strangers in your vicinity remain unfamiliar and gives a chance for criminal activities to flourish. Either way, the bonds between individuals in the society never really take root and the society regresses into “disunity”; the lack of a united voice on a common ground.
This disunity makes us easy prey for political propaganda that seek to divide and conquer. The term “National identity” does not invoke very strong ideals and feelings as it does in say, France or Germany. We have fallen prey to (politically motivated?) media making a bogeyman of a particular community or ethnicity not realising that the collective “Malaysians” is the one that need to be fiercely protected as an ideal and not broken down into sub-Malaysians of differing importance.
Glaringly, my surmising has no supporting sociological research but is based on my own personal observation from walking the streets of Kuala Lumpur and my own daily strolls on the sidewalks or trottoirs of a fairly typical European city.
Nonetheless, it is a small feature that makes a very big difference and I am convinced that proper sidewalks are a basic requirement of a great society and a great civilisation.
And we the people must demand for it.