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Sidewalks, Sandstone & Sense of Place

Authors: Jessica Canfield*, Kansas State University
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: Sidewalks, public space, pavement, materiality, sense of place
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


To experience a city is to experience pavement. Yet pavement materiality is far less discussed, prized, and protected than that of buildings. Sidewalks are an important aspect of urban public space and streetscape features (including paving) play a significant role in giving identity to a district, creating a sense of place, and contributing to an overall attractive image for a city. In many cities across the country, the financial burden of sidewalk implementation and maintenance falls to adjacent property owners. And for areas with historic pavements, like stone or brick, improvements may lead to a switch to concrete for cost savings. But, a change in material could mean the loss of a historic character, charm, and memory of a city’s origins. While wandering through Denver’s earliest neighborhoods, it is hard to miss stretches of rose-colored sandstone underfoot. Primarily installed during the City Beautiful movement, the prevalence of this historic paving surface is now threatened by a program aimed at creating a well-maintained network of sidewalks citywide. Non-compliant flagstones can either be releveled or replaced, with another flagstone or with concrete. By allowing individual property owners to choose the paving material of public sidewalks, neighborhoods’ historic character and visual identity could be threatened. This paper argues that the materiality of sidewalks is critical in fostering sense of place and memory in urban landscapes.

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