Paths of Desire

Desire line by Andrew Skudder

How are the memories that people hold shown in a place?  They might be revealed in the way people preferred to go instead of the paths that had been pre-built.  Sometimes it’s a shortcut, but often a way that is more interesting or efficient or safer or scenic. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a student of cities and urban form so a lot of what I do can be linked to some concepts learned in that area.  The Desire Path (or Desire Line) is one of those.  I often think about where the optimal paths are in any built environment.  They provide a type of direction people can trust, because they’ve seen others have used it.  They give us confidence to act.  I never thought, though, about how these ideas could be applied to our work building and planning urban gardens.

Are we building things that people want or will naturally come to? Are we making sure to consider the efficiencies, the scenic route?  Are we creating something that encourages others to follow upon it?  Are we thinking about the possibilities, and then moving towards the one(s) that everyone follows.  Are we setting up spaces that people want to be in, not where we want them to be?

Feedback is always helpful, but we also have to pay attention to what people are doing and the patterns that are developing.  And, we need to do this both before and after we provide a service or product.

A place to sit? Right next to a PVC pipe!

With some raised beds, I noticed a few things that tied the desire path concept to the work.  Where are people spending the most time in the garden? How are they navigating the beds? Where do they sit? Even in ones just completed, I’ve noticed residents sit on the corners – the area with the most surface area because of the top of the 4×4 post – even where there are chairs available.  It’s as if they want to be further connected to the task at hand…because it’s certainly not a comfortable perch.  I imagine that area will become sufficiently worn to the point that others will do the same on other corners.  So, we’ll take that into account on future beds.  Maybe a small platform on each corner is in order.  An easy, and simple fix that acknowledges natural behavior.

The PVC tubes installed to hold poles for netting have been sometimes used to hold sticks, with identifying information or crepe paper streamers. It isn’t a very sturdy re-use, since the sticks fall over and the PVC is on the interior of the bed.  But, what a wonderful alternative use of the structure!  What it means is that we should add a few PVC pipes on the exterior each bed just for people to engage in these types of creative uses. This we should do even beyond the garden art we’re already planning. We can’t imagine the universe of uses people will come up with, but are we allowing enough flexibility in the space? Enough for residents to develop those paths of desire?

We hope so.

Where are the paths of desire in your life?  Whether in your memory, your work, your environment.  Are they your own or shared?