Okay, I admit it - I tried to find a duller topic than inspecting sidewalks. It might not exist. Insulation - close but vermiculite might have asbestos and asbestos causes cancer which is definitely worth a look-see. Paint - maybe but at least it's colorful plus you can get it in a semi-gloss even for the exterior. Mrs. Duffau suggested floors but that immediately brought to mind Italian tile which lead me to regular tile, hardwoods then to carpets and, ultimately to a collection of shag carpets we saw once when house shopping; deep piles of shag in every room, neon lime green in one room, neon purple in another, neon hot pink shag in the master bathroom. We bought a different house. So we're stuck with sidewalks. Personally, I like them. They go places and I always seem to have a need to get somewhere. I get the same feeling when I watch planes overhead. Where's it going? Planes, however seem to involve expensive things like tickets and the TSA. Advantage, sidewalks.
When I look at sidewalks, the first thing to remember is that someone needs to be able to use them. How they need (or want) to use them will vary. I did not realize that a lady that I know had aged until I walked on the grass as she walked on the narrow walkway. There wasn't room for both of us and I am, at least for now, more stable than she. When she reached the steps she slowed, took each one deliberately. There were no handrails. She could have used them.
So size does matter. The usual recommendation is a 36 inch wide sidewalk. That will accommodate a stroller, a walker, a wheelchair. Except that isn't wide enough. All of us have seen those older couples, married for sixty years and still in love with each other. If she is using a walker, where is he? That's right, right next to her, a guiding hand on her elbow. They won't both fit 36 inches of walkway. So, when planning for senior living spaces, we should be making the walkways wider, much wider.
And they should be flat. Seems evident but not a week goes by without me writing up a trip hazard on a sidewalk. It doesn't take much cracking and settling to cause trouble. A lip of 1/2 an inch has put me on my head. Tree roots and frost heaves will do damage but the main culprit is good old-fashioned poor workmanship. Add in weeds growing in the cracks and a flat smooth surface is not a guarantee.
Lighting is another area that we should check. I like solar lighting for the backyard but that was for our old dog who was getting scared of the dark. His eyesight dimmed and he worried about getting separated from the pack in the dark when the wild things were out. I would have put them along the front too but we have streetlights and they cast enough light for now. Later, I can add more solar or, if I have the money, put in permanent lighting running off a house circuit.
And finally, what should we build the sidewalks with? Concrete is the old standby though with the development of stamped and colored concrete our options have grown from the standard hard grey stuff we grew up skinning our knees on. Brick is always nicer but not as smooth and sometimes slick with growth. Pavers are just precast concrete is thin pieces but we can make decorative shapes and styles with them to show off the sidewalks. Wood chips? Comfortable to walk when you still have the balance but not very practical for walkers, strollers or wheelchairs. Young kids love them. Wood planks? Wood rot and slippery when wet. Each material has it's own unique advantages and disadvantages. Flagstones are pretty but treacherous because they are so uneven.
It also isn't set in stone that the sidewalk must be straight. A curve, a gentle radius is not only attractive but can actually make the walk safer to transit. In that same vein, the surface really does need to be non-skid.
Planning a new sidewalk or planning to adapt a sidewalk involves taking all these characteristics into account. Inspecting them does to with the added need to understand who's walking the walk.