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Saturday, 9 July 2011

The Pavement Paradox: why you will always trip over

This is the puzzle: everyone uses pavements but most pavements are badly maintained. How come?

I think about this question here in Green-controlled Brighton and Hove and that gives me an idea for a general answer to my problem.

A bare majority of "citizens" vote in British general elections and only a minority in local elections. You can win in local elections by getting just a few of your on-hand special interest groups to turn out for you. Here in Brighton and Hove, the Greens know they need the votes of more than a few boutique owners in the Laines. So they go after the public sector worker vote (probably the biggest single special interest group), the LGBT vote (a big one), the cyclists (an utterly determined group), and so on.

Pavement users are just not a special interest group and promising better pavements just isn't going to motivate a non-voter to go and vote (I'm a non-voter and it wouldn't motivate me) nor is it going to switch a Tory or a Labour vote.

In consequence, because there are no votes in pavements, there is no money for pavements. In Brighton and Hove you only have to look down to see that.

There has been one curious exception to the rule which suggest that my thinking is along the right lines. A few years ago, a lot of money (half a million, if I recall correctly) was spent putting some very nice pavements around Hove's Palmeira Square. They looked good and still do. Why? My understanding was that the then Labour nearly-controlled council was trying to keep the Lib Dems on side, to give them a majority over the Tories. And Palmeira Square was Lib Dem territory. You see? You need a special interest to get good pavements.

Added 24 July 2018: For an expansion of this Blog post, see the chapter "Macadamised" in my book The Best I Can Do (degree zero 2016), freely available from Amazon, Waterstones and other booksellers.

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