To the Editor:
The question has been asked your correspondent by several citizens: Can the city legally compel the owners or occupants of property in this city to construct, at their own expense, sidewalks in front of their premises?
The city certainly claims ownership of the street from fence to fence, and exercises absolute control thereof. Even if a man desires to plant shade trees on the street in front of his property, the city prescribes the exact distance at which they shall be placed from the property owner's street line; and notwithstanding the fact that the property owner pays for the trees himself and also for the planting and subsequent care of them until their growth is assured, yet he is denied by the city any ownership in them, and is forbidden to remove or even to trim them, should he at any time desire to do so.
What these people wish to know, then, is, if the city owns the streets and their shade trees and side walks, why the city should not itself build the sidewalks, do all grading and plant all shade trees?
It is undeniable that when a man builds his sidewalk it immediately becomes city property, and he has no more ownership of it than any other citizen. In fact, in a single day hundreds will use it when he uses it once. In short, it is built not for him, but for the public. Then why should not the public pay for it?
The building of sidewalks under the existing ordinance is a heavy burden upon very many citizens, some of whom have been compelled by their circumstances to borrow the money at interest to enable them to comply with the order of the council. This seems to your correspondent to be a matter worthy of deliberate consideration by the city fathers. The claim of these people is that the city, owning the streets, should itself put down all sidewalks, and spread the expense upon he general tax.
It may do no good to open up this question at this time; but the voice of the people should at least be heard in the matter, and this communication certainly expresses it in some degree.
From the Ann Arbor Argus, August 28, 1891, via the Old News archive at the Ann Arbor District Library