Sidewalks are potentially the most important and most overlooked public spaces in the city. This vast network of narrow, open spaces can be places where classes mix, economies flourish, and a vital urban life is lived. Now, more than ever, people around the globe are trying to unlock their potential by contesting the purpose of and rights to the sidewalk. Street vendors, property owners, local government, and the general public are engaging in innovative experiments in some places and bloody conflicts in others.
Sidewalk City proposes re-mapping our cities. Cartography based on spatial ethnography helps us find and recognize the spatial practices of more members of the public. Such counter-cartographies are needed to inform reconstructions of public space as cities become sites of increasingly heterogeneous spatial projects. While maps have a long history with political power, propaganda, and regime operations, the recent explosion in critical cartography shows that maps can also be used to question normalized practices and explore alternative ones. This book explores the possibilities of using the map to navigate both the socio-political construction of space and the physical, materiality of space, an agenda core to the fields of geography and planning.
Throughout, this book uses the case of Ho Chi Minh City’s remarkable sidewalk system to ground the discussions about reconsidering public space and cartography. To uncover actual spatial practices, the book presents methods of spatial ethnography developed through field studies over 15 years including hundreds of interviews with sidewalk vendors, government policymakers, planners, police, and the general public. It critically analyzes the competing visions about sidewalks with difficult to obtain historical, state planning, and private developer urban maps. The book also develops visual arguments for reconsidering sidewalk space by presenting a progression of original maps to show the fluidity of how society can grant entitlements and liabilities to sidewalks in practice even in a place where the state officially owns all land and has top-down planning institutions. It discusses the potential of using maps to engage social discourse and planning institutions with new visual narratives to shape the social reconstruction of public space.