Subscribe Anywhere
Jul
15
2024
Village Life

Last month, a couple dozen villagers volunteered to clean up, edge and widen sidewalks around local schools. (Photo by Truth Garrett)

Pounding pavement— Villagers improve Yellow Springs sidewalks

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

In his famed poem, Shel Silverstein asked us to consider “where the sidewalk ends” — a fantastical place where anything is possible, and children can play forever and always.

What if, though, the sidewalk itself was a place of magic, a space of possibility?

That’s an idea villager Mitzie Miller, 70, has been working on for the last several years.

Get your News at home,  subscribe to the Yellow Springs News today

Along with the recently formed group, the Citizen Action Project for Sidewalks, and with the support of Village government, Miller’s mission has been to make Yellow Springs sidewalks cleaner and more accessible for residents and visitors of all abilities.

In the last three years alone, Miller and her team of volunteers have cleared over 100 separate stretches of village sidewalks. That’s meant cutting back low-hanging tree branches, raking up leaves and underfoot growth, edging the concrete to expand walkway width and working with the Village to encourage homeowners to keep their public paths in compliance with municipal code.

“This is about community,” Miller told the News earlier this month. “The goal is to make Yellow Springs a safe, walkable community for all pedestrians — kids who walk to school, seniors with mobility challenges and everyone in between.”

By her own admission, Miller has gotten a local reputation as “the sidewalk lady” — a badge she wears with pride — likely owing, she believes, to her regular attendance at Village Council meetings and her occasional interactions with neighbors asking them to do their part.

“If I feel strongly about something, you’re going to find me advocating for that cause,” she said. “You can put as much pressure on me as you want, but I won’t give up. That’s just the kind of person I am.”

And she’s always been that way, Miller told the News. Having grown up with dyslexia, she found a natural career in special education, working for 35 years with Fairborn City Schools. Miller cemented her passion for improving local walkways when she became the primary caregiver for her aging mother, who in 2016, got around in a wheelchair.

“I’d try to wheel her around the neighborhood, but I found we couldn’t use the sidewalks at all,” Miller explained. “They were dangerous and inaccessible — there was just too much overgrowth on many of them. So what did we do? We walked in the streets.”

When Miller realized that she and her mother weren’t the only pedestrians shunted to the roads, she resolved to take action. She got involved in local government, petitioned Village leadership and joined the Active Transportation Advisory Committee. In 2021, Miller even got several Village Council members into wheelchairs to try maneuvering some sidewalks.

Dismayed by perceived Village inaction, Miller took matters in her own hands. In 2022, she launched the Citizens Action Project, a volunteer group that started out with over a dozen local residents who shared Miller’s dream of a safer, more walkable village.

According to her, the group’s first major effort was to clear the sidewalks along the residential blocks of Dayton Street. This was before the Village installed its multimodal pathway that widened, and ultimately improved the existing sidewalk, which Miller described as having been “unwalkable.”

So, Miller and her team of volunteers — residents all over 50 years old, she said — went from house to house along Dayton Street, asking if they could clear their sidewalks.

“People were ecstatic,” she said, and noted that the group successfully cleared nearly a mile of sidewalks, and in some places widened walkways by up to a foot.

While Miller and her growing team have continued their sidewalk-clearing efforts since that first major project — most notably clearing walkways around the local schools earlier this summer — Miller believes that a more sustainable path forward entails educating village residents about the “hows” and “whys” of keeping up with their own sidewalks.

“Education is the main tactic of the Citizens Action Project,” Miller said. “But, still, if someone can’t take care of the sidewalks in front of their home, I’ll knock on their door, introduce myself and tell them about this community service — that we can take care of it.”

Despite this show of good faith, Miller said she’s been met by some opposition. According to her, some local residents have refused to clear their sidewalks even after being approached more than once by Miller. The next step, as Miller sees it:

“I will file a complaint with the Village,” she said.

According to Zoning Administrator Meg Leatherman, the Village received 97 sidewalk-related complaints in 2023. Following investigation and eventual compliance, no homeowners were cited or assigned to Mayor’s Court.

Leatherman explained the complaint process: Upon receiving notice, staff will investigate and verify the sidewalk issue in question. Then, staff will contact the property owner — by phone, letter or in-person — and provide them with two weeks to remedy the situation. If the sidewalk remains unruly or obstructive, staff goes through that cycle one more time before issuing a citation.

The municipal code by which staff evaluates complaints comes from Ordinance 2021-16, passed by Council in July 2021, which states that property owners must trim trees or foliage to clear a height of eight feet for “unencumbered pedestrian passage”; trim or remove “every dead, decayed or broken tree, plant or shrubbery” that has the potential to fall on the sidewalk; as well as remove or cut down foliage to “provide a clear and unobstructed view of traffic from all directions” at all street intersections.

It concludes with: “In the event the owner and/or occupant of any lot or parcel of land does not trim or remove any tree, plant, shrubbery, grass or weeds, or any part thereof … that person is guilty of a minor misdemeanor.”

“But, again, what I try to do is save Village staffers from doing the work,” Miller said. “They have enough on their plates. I do what I can, but really we all need to take care of our sidewalks. Does it take long? Not at all. Even just 15 minutes of clearing can help a lot.”

From all her and others’ work, Miller said she’s seen a considerable improvement in the village’s walkability. She lauded former Village Manager Josué Salmerón for building a sidewalk on Limestone Street in 2022, and current Manager Johnnie Burns for the new multimodal path on Dayton Street — both projects that were entirely funded through ODOT grants. Miller added that she looks forward to the path on Fairfield Pike that Village government is currently planning.

Miller extended further gratitude for Livable, Equitable, Age-Friendly YS, which recently secured a grant for sidewalk-clearing tools and more.

“I’m hoping that people can see the difference,” Miller said. “Keeping sidewalks clear is about kindness and respect for one another — especially for those who are aging and want to safely walk around, socialize and smell the roses.”

To get involved with the Yellow Springs Citizen Action Project to help Mitzie Miller and others improve local sidewalks, contact Miller at Mitziemiller428@yahoo.com.

Topics:

No comments yet for this article.

The Yellow Springs News encourages respectful discussion of this article.
You must to post a comment.

Don't have a login? Register for a free YSNews.com account.

WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com