Letter: Extend Germantown Avenue’s sidewalk to build community

Posted 4/27/23

It was with a sad resignation that I saw McNally’s streetery being dismantled the other day.

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Letter: Extend Germantown Avenue’s sidewalk to build community


It was with a sad resignation that I saw McNally’s streetery being dismantled the other day. I thought it had been a very positive contribution to the life of the street, the neighborhood and to our overall community. 

Ann McNally told me that a single neighbor had protested its continued existence, resulting in a fine and the streetery’s dismantling. With this and all too many other recent events, both locally and nationally, we seem to be increasingly ruled by the tyranny of the minority rather than by the consensus and good sense of the majority. 

Our streets and sidewalks are part of our commons. If a commons is working well, it supports both private gain and as well as the public good. And just as communities cannot be static if they are to survive and prosper, our commons must also change and adjust to the times.

What was so interesting about the McNally streetery is that it provided our community with a sense of what this section of the avenue could be like. For those of us who walk the sidewalk on a daily basis, we know that it is undersized. It just isn’t wide enough to wait outside the Tavern for a table, have a conversation with a passing neighbor, or get around a family with a baby carriage. Well-designed and considered sidewalks on busy retail streets need to be wide enough to simultaneously accommodate those who want to pause and those who need to get somewhere. 

Currently, there are five eateries on the block and soon to be six. Two serve morning and afternoon patrons and the others serve afternoon and evening customers. Two additional restaurants are a few steps away on the other side of the street. All create positive synergies with one another and the Avenue.

I am grateful that McNally’s took the initiative to create temporary outdoor eating for it gave us a taste – excuse the pun – of what our commons could be like on this section of Germantown Avenue. 

So I offer the following proposal: Create a wider public sidewalk that could accommodate eating, walking and neighborly conversation by moving the curb, starting at Rex, to the alley next to Cosimo’s. (The manhole cover would need to be relocated to the street.) This would still leave a couple of 15-minute pickup parking spots, and accommodate a handicapped parking space while still allowing for easy bus pick-up and drop-off further down the block. A left turn signal could be installed at Bethlehem Pike to fix this often vexing bottleneck. 

For me, the designated bump-out area described above would signal the start and end of the Avenue’s retail district, squeezing cars, trucks and busses into a 10-12-foot travel lane and reducing their speed. 

This proposal would involve heavy and permanent construction, so I propose that we form an ad hoc group representative of the merchants on the block, neighborhood residents and Chestnut Hill citizens to discuss the idea. I for one would like to know whether my favorite sports store would view the elimination of on-street parking as a hardship or, with the additional accommodation of pedestrian activity, a positive asset to its business. 

The cost may seem high. But our commons are a form of public property that reflects how a society thinks about itself. When we invest in our commons, we are investing with our children, grandchildren and our community in mind.

One last thought, should I still have your attention? The distinguished public intellectual Lewis Mumford observed that the true mark of any civilization was not the number of commodities it produces but the kind of men and women it creates. Our commons play a critical and outsized role in this latter endeavor. 

Jon Coddington

Chestnut Hill