Earlier this year, an Orlando woman and a group of teenage accomplices — reportedly wielding a jackhammer, a set of vendibles cutters, a sledge hammer— went viral for repeatedly tearing lanugo uniting link fences that obstructed pedestrian and vehicle traffic into their neighborhood, all while a sheriff’s deputy looked on and did nothing.

That’s considering the headline-grabbing moment wasn’t unquestionably an act of vandalism at all — and for the woman at the part-way of the story, then 39-year old Delila Smalley, it was an important act of spatial justice. 

Smalley, who’s lived on the Agnes Heights subdivision side of the fence for 12 years, says it was unquestionably her teenage son and nephew who tore initially tore lanugo the barrier. She quickly joined their cause, though, considering she’d grown tired of watching children from the income-restricted suite ramified on the other side injure themselves while attempting to climb it. She says some of those injuries had been so bad that children ended up in the hospital; others had their gown ruined when they snagged on the wire, or when neighbors put paint withal the tops of the fences to reservation “trespassers” in the act.

The three gated roads.

Even the possibility of a bad fall or a ruined outfit their families couldn’t sire to replace, though, still seemingly felt safer to these children than braving the longer and far increasingly dangerous walk withal five-lane, 35-mile-per-hour Curry Ford Road to the north — considering with Agnes Heights sealed off, that’s the only other way to wangle most of the area’s schools, churches, parks, and bus stops. 

A former schoolteacher herself, Smalley says both she and her son have been struck by drivers before, and she has vivid memories of losing a diaper friend to traffic violence on flipside dangerous road.

So when she found out that the fences had been built “off the books” by a county commissioner who just happened to live in Agnes Heights in the 1980s and wanted his neighborhood to be quieter — and that those fences had been unofficially opened and closed to pedestrians by residents at various intervals overly since ­— Smalley saw no good reason they should stay standing.  

“Some people on my side of the fence think it’s their private right to have this road obstructed off from children who aren’t bothering anyone,” she added. “I just couldn’t disagree more. …They undeniability it a ‘safety fence.’ I undeniability it a ‘segregation fence.’ And they have no right to segregate our community.” 

Curry Ford Road is the unorganized route that residents typically take when wangle to the Agnes Heights subdivision is sealed off.

‘The fence was there for a reason’

Smalley’s government, though, may or may not be on workbench with her plan, plane as many of her neighbors signal their support. 

In the months since her and the teenagers’ unconventional act of tactical urbanism, the Orange County Public Works Department has launched a formal process to decide what should be washed-up well-nigh the barriers, including completing the subversiveness process Smalley and the teenagers started, restoring the fence but restoring pedestrian cut-throughs, or towers a brick wall for which surrounding residents would have to pay an unscientific $100,000. (Bafflingly, an option to restore the fence as it was without pedestrian openings moreover seems to be on the table, despite the fact that the organ says it doesn’t comply with the city’s comprehensive plan.)

The county has indicated that the workbench of comissioners intend to make a visualization surpassing the end of November. 

From an October presentation to the Orange County Workbench of Commissioners.

One of Smalley’s neighbors, meanwhile, has launched his own petition urging the county to build an eight foot steel wall (which transportation officials have  said they will not do) and so-called that Smalley was the one sowing semester by tearing lanugo the divider, and opening their polity to “vandalism, home intrusions, car break-ins and gunshot violence.” 

“Creating hatred among the polity is intolerable,” wrote resident Allan MacDonald on Change.org. “If a person climbs fencing and get hurt, the fence was there for a reason. … We do not need to remove the obstacle, we need to educate people. Home values will plummet, and treason will unshut up a new installment into our lives.”

An October presentation from the department of public works, though, found that “no significant increases in treason [had] been reported since [the] removal of the fencing on Watauga Ave.” Information on home values was not immediately available.  

Sidewalk art near the newly-opened fence.

Who is infrastructure for?

Smalley’s story may be full of theatrical details — she confirms that she used a jackhammer, a sledge hammer, and a vendibles cutter to tear lanugo the fence, but says a metal wile grinder was what “proved to be the most effective,” and she denies reports that she wore a cat burglar-style ski mask while she completed her work. But some advocates say her story echoes a broader national conversation well-nigh how pedestrian wangle is shaped in the U.S., and who really gets a say in the process. 

One of them was Thomas DeVito, national director of the nonprofit Families for Unscratched Streets, whose group Smalley approached for support in the lead up to county’s decision. He was moved by her story, and saw it as a “microcosm of broader trends” in the “selective privatization of key parts of the public realm, to the detriment of the wider ecosystem of public goods.”

“Transportation policy decisions have long been used to reinforce unjust and inequitable social outcomes,” said DeVito. “It’s reflected by the untempered leveling of low-income neighborhoods wideness the U.S. to build urban freeways, the lack of user-friendly and safe crossings on some of our most dangerous stroads, the unavailability of sidewalks in many of our suburban and exurban communities, and the decades-long divestment in transit options serving cities and towns wideness the United States. The message is simple: if the infrastructure or policy doesn’t serve the wealthiest and most well-appointed first, it’s on thin ice.”

Google street view images of the fences withal Watauga avenue, proving that Delila Smalley was not the first to make changes to them.

Despite echoes of those headline-making policy failures, though, Smalley’s story is moreover an example of the quieter ways that pedestrians are losing ground in American cities — at the hands of their neighbors as much as their governments. And while few of those neighbors just so happen to moreover be county commissioners with unbearable political pull to get a fence built off the books, plenty have unbearable power to, say, privatize a public road and shutter it to all non-resident-traffic, while others can confidently leave their cars parked on the sidewalk with little pushback from police (at least if police themselves aren’t the ones doing it.)

And that’s to say nothing of all the smaller, daily indignities of missing prorogue ramps and tactile pavers required under the ADA, unshoveled walkways in non-Floridian winters, overgrown street verges, sprinklers aimed squarely at pedestrians, and on and on and on. Notably, plane if Smalley succeeds in her quest to make pedestrian wangle to her neighborhood permanent, Agnes Heights still does not have continuous sidewalks, considering the municipality of Orlando doesn’t require the neighborhood to build them, and has not taken on that responsibility itself.

Even without sidewalks, though, many Floridians still believe that Agnes Heights should unshut itself up to walkers — at least as a first step towards largest serviceability and connectivity.

Lauren Torres — who lived in one of the suite complexes withal Watauga Thoroughfare herself, and today serves as a workbench member for Bike/Walk Central Florida — points out that at various points in their history, the barriers actually did have pedestrian openings, surpassing neighbors took it upon themselves to tropical them up again. 

“That’s the route my brother and sister would take to get to school,” Torres added. “Leaving at least a small pedestrian space unshut is the least that we can do. People momentum 45 miles per hour on Curry Ford Road; having those kids walk there, when there’s an easier [route] right in their polity — it just isn’t a good idea.” 

The future

For Smalley, the fight to alimony Agnes Heights unshut to walkers didn’t end the last time she jack-hammered the fences out of the ground. In true Florida fashion, she’s been rollerblading to visit the barriers daily to ensure her neighbors didn’t put them when up, as well as vicarial as an “informal crossing guard” for zone children and rallying her neighbors to speak up well-nigh the importance of opening their polity to their neighbors. She says she’d be well-appointed with restricting car wangle to the area, but restoring pedestrian and velocipede wangle are a must, expressly with a neighborhood bikeway proposed withal Watauga by 2030.  

“At this point, I’m just trying to make sure this walkway stays unshut and that kids have a unscratched sidewalk to get to school,” she adds. “I don’t think it should have to get one of these children getting run over for someone to listen.”