But what if I want to go from C - L, via A, B and A again?
October 19, 2018 11:47 PM   Subscribe

Desire paths have been described as illustrating “the tension between the native and the built environment and our relationship to them”. Because they often form in areas where there are no pavements, they can be seen to “indicate [the] yearning” of those wishing to walk, a way for “city dwellers to ‘write back’ to city planners, giving feedback with their feet”. Stroll on through: Desire paths: the illicit trails that defy the urban planners. (SL The Guardian)
posted by Juso No Thankyou (23 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
I still see this everywhere I go. At work, the management company wanted to preserve the grass between two campus buildings separated by a major cross walk (and different management companies to boot!). The tried to shunt traffic, say 20 feet, in a roundabout fashion - not too much of a distance to complain about, but...

At first they put down new sod with signs, it got trampled

They put down new sod with signs and barriers (orange plastic mesh). The grass grew. They took down the barriers, it got trampled.

They finally gave up, pulled down the barriers, laid in a nice smooth clay path (Los Angeles - no rain worries) and it finally worked.

Two months later, the company shut down the other building and gave it to another company altogether - aka no more traffic across the intersection to get to the cafeteria hosted in our building.

Pretty damn rich.
posted by drewbage1847 at 12:10 AM on October 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


Tracking desire paths can actually save lives. There's a relatively new practice where planners look for places where large numbers of people choose to risk jaywalking instead of going to a less-convenient crosswalk, and then put in a crosswalk and lights at that location - resulting in fewer pedestrians being hit by cars.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:26 AM on October 20, 2018 [39 favorites]


Yeah when I was at UCF ages ago, they had a habit of laying down barebones sidewalks, waiting for the desire paths to form, then they'd lay the rest of the area's sidewalks where everyone walked. Worked really well.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 12:49 AM on October 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


Oh, I always notice these on college campuses. I also always make a mental note to look up the article I read ten years ago that gave the name for them and caused me to notice them on college campuses and never do. Desire paths! What a delight to learn the name again.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:51 AM on October 20, 2018


As the desire/crow flies.
posted by arcticseal at 1:00 AM on October 20, 2018


I've heard of large universities / campuses trying to do with on the networking side now also - trying to track mobile device usage to get flows between buildings, etc. Where are areas that people congregate the most so you can get better network coverage, etc.

The desired paths routing vs planned routing also just know let me put into words what frustrates the hell out of me when I'm at a tech conference. You have 10-40k thousand people in an area for such a short period of time, such varied interests, and differing agendas that you can't predict what the flow would be so any attempt at path flow is handled by humans with walkie talkies and big signs pointing people in the right direction.
posted by mrzarquon at 1:23 AM on October 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


This is a concept that's been picked up quite a bit recently in the UX business (User eXperience, or the design of digital services). Twitter's adoptation of hashtags and @ mentions is a canonical example of a company paving desire lines originally created by users.
posted by quacks like a duck at 1:33 AM on October 20, 2018 [8 favorites]


Then there are what I will now call “paths of misleading desire “. That is, a path that leads to a initially unapparent dead end that people follow because it looks like it’s the right way to go until they reach the dead end and then double back over the same path, causing twice the wear on the path making it seem even more like a desire path. I see these quite frequently on hiking trails where trees and terrain can block the view in the direction you think the path goes. One trail I recall these on is the near Seattle Mt Pilchuck Trail where there are switchbacks on a rock field where the trail is marked by an occasional splotch of paint, but on the edges of the rock field there are dead end paths that lead into the trees because the dead end paths look more obvious as the path of the trail than the occasional splotch if paint on the rocks.
posted by ShooBoo at 3:21 AM on October 20, 2018 [12 favorites]


“Pathways of desire.” I love the phrase. So inspiring.
O did those feet in recent times
Walk upon campus gardens green?
And were the places students trod
Over pleasant pastures seen?

And were the curses unrefined
Heard across these muddy ways?
And were students heard to repine
Throughout the lengthy rain-filled days?

Build me a road of pebbled mix!
Build me a pathway of desire!
Build me a lane - O plans unfold!
Build me what those feet require!

I shall not cease from planning fights
Nor shall I set aside these plans
Till we have drawn connecting paths
Across all the old forbidden lands!
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:28 AM on October 20, 2018 [13 favorites]


Interesting subject and a nice post, but I gotta say it feels like they've got the terminology backwards. It's the designed paths that thwart pedestrian needs that seem more like "desire paths" while those taken in spite of design might be more clearly named as "demand paths".
posted by gusottertrout at 6:00 AM on October 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


I was working a job recently at a pediatric clinic that was having some landscaping work done. The entrance to the clinic was in the front, with a short staircase leading down to a sidewalk, and little gardeney areas flanking it one either side side. To one side was the parking lot where patients parked.

As part of the landscaping, the little gardeney bit between the stairs and parking lot (but not the one on the far side) was being redone, with new mulch and new bushes. The shortest line from parking lot to entrance went through this little gardeney bit, and in fact there was striping in the parking lot which looked like it was leading pedestrians in that direction. In fact, the stripes were the loading zone for an adjacent handicapped parking space and the apparent path dead-ended at the garden. Patients were supposed to walk out onto the sidewalk via the automobile entrance about twelve feet back and go around the garden, but this wasn't clear until you were already in the dead-end zone.

Even as the landscapers were working, I saw patients cutting through the fresh mulch between the bushes that must have been planted literally minutes earlier. It seemed pretty clear why it was that that side of the front garden was being replanted, but not the other! I wondered why the proprietors weren't just having a walkway put in there, but they weren't. They were just re-planting another doomed garden.

This story has no moral.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:05 AM on October 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


Re managing conference traffic flow, I work with a planner who is truly a master at designing and using signage, anticipating traffic flow, etc. And that is a very high-level skill. But because event planning is a female dominated field, it's a skill that largely goes unappreciated.
posted by emjaybee at 6:20 AM on October 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


Then there are what I will now call “paths of misleading desire “. That is, a path that leads to a initially unapparent dead end that people follow because it looks like it’s the right way to go until they reach the dead end and then double back over the same path, causing twice the wear on the path making it seem even more like a desire path.

These are great fun to make after a recent heavy snowfall. It is amazing how many people will blindly follow a path.
posted by srboisvert at 6:43 AM on October 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


I used to tutor a girl who was having a hard time with the 101-level science classes in community college because she was raised in a fundamentalist household and her homeschool science curriculum reflected Christian values and not any science. In the year I was helping her, she was visiting colleges looking for a four year school to transfer to so it was fun to hear about her school visits. After she visited Liberty University, Jerry Falwell's school, she told me how wonderful she thought the campus was because the lawns were so green. I didn't get what she meant because every school is nicely landscaped.

I figured out that what she was talking about was the lack of desire paths on the Liberty campus. At every other school she visited she saw the paths of dead grass as problematic or ugly. She didn't get what they were, she just saw them as a blight. It isn't proper planning that prevents desire paths at Liberty, it's the draconian Liberty Way code of conduct forbidding students from walking on the grass. So the fields are all green and lush because nobody dares to walk on them, no shortcuts taken, no unsanctioned desires fulfilled.
posted by peeedro at 8:09 AM on October 20, 2018 [22 favorites]


Interesting subject and a nice post, but I gotta say it feels like they've got the terminology backwards. It's the designed paths that thwart pedestrian needs that seem more like "desire paths" while those taken in spite of design might be more clearly named as "demand paths".

So true. Though I feel like "desire" is a bit too generous for many of these paths. At my workplace they did a bunch of landscaping, putting in these awful meandering cobbled pathways, in addition to the normal, non-winding walkways. Those cobbles are so little used they should be called "once in a blue moon paths".
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 8:12 AM on October 20, 2018


I assume that the desire being referenced is the desire of pedestrians to have a quick way to get from A to B, rather than the desire of architects to have a campus layout that looks good from an airplane.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:40 AM on October 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


Desire paths are one of those ways of looking at the world that are hard to unsee, once you learn about them. They've trained my eyes, so I always look for where feet deviate from concrete.
posted by doctornemo at 9:19 AM on October 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


At every other school she visited she saw the paths of dead grass as problematic or ugly...It isn't proper planning that prevents desire paths at Liberty, it's the draconian Liberty Way code of conduct forbidding students from walking on the grass. So the fields are all green and lush because nobody dares to walk on them..

Or you could do it the way they do at Cambridge, and have a tradition that only the Fellows are allowed to walk on the grass.
posted by subdee at 10:46 AM on October 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


I assume that the desire being referenced is the desire of pedestrians to have a quick way to get from A to B, rather than the desire of architects to have a campus layout that looks good from an airplane.

Yes, that's why I'd prefer it the other way around, where pedestrian demand is more defining than that of the architect. As someone without a car, I've seen way too many locations that were designed despite, or even to spite and obstruct, pedestrian traffic rather than provide for ease of it. So for me the "desire paths" are as often "fuck you and your authority/car/wealth loving design, this works better" as anything else. I ain't desiring a path I'm taking it.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:02 AM on October 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


Must we switch from "desire lines" to "desire paths"? It used to be mainly the former I think, though maybe it was just that it turned up more in poetry and fiction because of its greater euphony. There was a time in the late 90s or early aughts when desire lines were a strangely common bit of poetic lumber, almost a cliche, that I heard again and again at various readings. I had it classed in my mind along with the other bit of landcapeology that was also beautiful but a bit too popular at the time, the beaufort scale. But I guess if we want to convince serious planners to take up the idea more broadly we must switch to the more self-explanatory "paths," even at the loss of some of the beauty?
posted by chortly at 2:15 PM on October 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


Or you could do it the way they do at Cambridge, and have a tradition that only the Fellows are allowed to walk on the grass.

Except when it (rarely) snows, and then it's a brief free-for-all.
posted by nnethercote at 8:36 PM on October 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


Must we switch from "desire lines" to "desire paths"?

I like the prosaic "cow paths", and the accompanying phrase "pave the cow paths".
posted by nnethercote at 8:37 PM on October 20, 2018


I too prefer "desire lines," always have.

Ranger and AMC types up in the White Mountains seem to call these "herd paths" for some reason, despite there not being any cattle in the Whites. People sometimes call them "social trails" as well, which doesn't quite gel for me because they are generally the most remote (and therefore non-social) type of trail, the ones that pick up (for a little while anyway) where the official trail network ends.

"Desire line" just sounds nicer. It's also the name of a streetcar route in New Orleans.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:34 PM on October 21, 2018


« Older Thanks, Mole Playing Rough   |   In which a skillet is saved Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments