Are New York’s Sidewalks Shrinking?

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Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

In this week’s New York magazine, culture editor Emily Nussbaum wrote about UrbanBaby.com, the online playpen for lonely, drunk, angry, scared, and fun-loving mothers, and in doing so described a change in New York City.

With a 26 percent rise in the number of 5-year-olds in New York from 2000 to 2004 , a simultaneous rise in the percentage of families staying in the city instead of moving to the suburbs, and an increase in the number of mothers choosing to stay home with their children, the island seems to be filling up with strollers at precisely the moment when the sidewalks have narrowed.

Craig Chin, a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Transportation, did not agree that the sidewalks have narrowed. “The minimum width of a sidewalk is five feet,” Mr. Chin said by phone this week, “and nothing has changed. It could be wider, but five is the minimum.”

Rachaele Raynoff, the press secretary for the city’s Department of Urban Planning, confirmed that sidewalks of New York have not narrowed—instead, may may have grown. “Sometimes we’ll widen sidewalks,” Ms. Raynoff said, “when we are planning for areas with greater density. We try to include requirements for wider sidewalks.”

Reached at her desk with these facts, Ms. Nussbaum said, “It’s a metaphor.”

Representing the softly-spoken socioeconomic strata of our pedestrians? The unfair sway held by voluptuous young mothers and their pricey wide-load strollers?

“For the economic tightening in Manhattan,” Ms. Nussbaum said. “It’s more expensive to live here, it’s harder to raise a large family here. There is this statistical baby boom, and that’s essentially what I was addressing.”

—Max Abelson