Editorials

editorial

Beautify, but don’t block city sidewalks

The streets of Boston, like those of most any big city, could always use more greenery, especially in residential areas where cement, bricks, and aluminum siding dominate the streetscape. So it’s worth applauding property owners who take the initiative — and make the investment — to beautify the outsides of their buildings. Trees and shrubs clean the air, provide shade, and make city life more pleasant.

Private beautification efforts, however, are causing friction in neighborhoods like South Boston and Beacon Hill, where building owners have been placing large planters on narrow sidewalks in front of their properties. Some unhappy neighbors have taken to Citizens Connect, the city’s online helpline, to complain about the “obstacles” that take up too much room on sidewalks, making it difficult to pass by on foot or open car doors.

Some complaints are baseless, but right-of-wayers have a legitimate point: Pedestrians — and especially people in wheelchairs — shouldn’t have to travel in the road or cross the street to avoid intrusive tree branches, no matter how beautiful and verdant.

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But that doesn’t mean private beautification efforts should stop. The city should work to alleviate the conflicts between residents while supporting homeowners who wish to keep planting. Publicizing the rules — for example, that all public ways must have a clearance of 36 inches — is a great first step. Encouraging smaller plantings in appropriately sized containers would help, too. Most importantly, clear guidelines would help ease the confusion among neighbors, enabling green thumbs to continue making city life better for everyone.