Walk along any random stretch of sidewalk in the central part of Brookfield — its oldest section — and you’ll be almost guaranteed to find sidewalks from the 1920s that are breaking apart.
It’s no surprise that a 90-year-old slab of concrete exposed to nine decades’ worth of Chicago winters and blistering, sometimes swampy summers would be in poor repair.
The surprise is that so many of those slabs continue to dot the village, especially given that Brookfield has had a sidewalk replacement program in place for so long. The trouble is the program wasn’t a comprehensive plan to keep the village’s public walkways in good repair.
It was a way for particularly motivated homeowners to keep their properties ship-shape. It was also a way for people who resented having to shell out money to help the village replace public sidewalks to resist the offer.
The result has been that some marginally bad sidewalks have been replaced while dangerous slabs are left to pose a hazard to pedestrians. According to the village’s new public works superintendent, Brookfield in 2012 had at least 10 reports of people being injured in falls due to crumbling sidewalks. That seems like a lot to us.
The decision by the village to scrap its old 50-50 sidewalk replacement plan is long overdue. Instead of simply responding to requests from residents whose sidewalks may or may not need replacement, the Department of Public Works will now compile a list of the sidewalk areas most in need of replacement and use budgeted funds to improve those areas on an ongoing, systematic basis.
Replacement will be done on a four-year cycle, addressing one quadrant of the town each year. The village will start with the oldest parts of town first and move toward the newer ones in subsequent years.
Might some homeowners who paid a share for replacing the sidewalks in front of their homes feel like they got a raw deal by this policy change? We suppose there is that possibility.
But addressing sidewalk replacement in this new fashion makes much more sense and, in the long run, it’s better for the village as a whole and for pedestrians to start replacing crumbling sidewalks when they need to be replaced — not just when a private homeowner decides replacement is worth the cost.
Now if Brookfield could begin to think about its alleys in the same way, that would really be a breakthrough. It’s been years since an alley was replaced by the village — again because the process depends on cash-strapped homeowners.
Brookfield has had an odd ambivalence with respect to its public property over the years, whether it’s streets, sidewalks, parks or alleys. The village has looked to private sources — homeowners and other local organizations — to foot the bill or provide the maintenance for improvement.
These improvements, however, publicly benefit everyone and global solutions need to be explored rather than the parochial ones of the past. The sidewalk plan is a good step. Alleys next, right?