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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

Never realised they have a name.

You know those little paths that people forge across corners of grassed areas and the like. Apparently architects call those Desire Paths.

Read more at Everyone Forever

Tags for Forum Posts: local ideas

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Hi Hugh,

The concept of Desire Paths (or Lines) is a fruitful one. But the website link you give is disappointing. For one thing the photos and some of the discussion is lifted from GeorgieR's Flickr group.

Then most of the comments are unsourced anecdotes about different Universities laying out paths. This from people who have access to university libraries and (probably) to online academic journal databases - and could check this out. (Yes, I admit it, I'm deeply jealous.)

But far more important - to me anyway - is their not appreciating the important links between Desire Paths and other issues.

Originally I took two doorways into this discussion. The first was reading the great Jane Jacobs. (Who died in 2006 just before her ninetieth birthday - and two years after the publication of her last book.)

She described this from her childhood. “I was at a school in Connecticut where the architects watched paths that the children made in the snow all winter, and then when Spring came they made those the gravel paths across the green." (New Yorker Magazine 17 May 2004) This may be one more anecdote - from the nineteen-twenties. But it was certainly one of the principles underlying her best known book: The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). Still essential reading for anyone who loves and wants to understand cities and how to make them living organic places.

But one of the many fascinating things about Jane Jacobs' book is how she weaves this into a web of other themes. And shows why streets and parks are safer and more interesting if lots of different people are drawn to walk through them, choosing from multiple paths. Why windows and overlooking is good; while blank walls are not. Why green spaces round tower blocks and large open parks often become underused and feel unsafe and even threatening.

The second doorway was several years research I did with collective and collaborative teams. One of the initial traps such teams fell into was to abolish the hierarchical divisions of space - e.g. managers' private offices. They often took down all barriers: went open plan; or with everyone being able to use whatever bit of desk space was available. Of course, it was dysfunctional. Successful collective teams restored the division of workspace - but according to function - not status.

Sadly, the same dysfunctioning is now at work in open plan offices and - worse - the absurdity of hot desking. As this is rarely if ever adopted by senior managers, you know it's only about saving money.

There's another important and overlooked link here. Jane Jacobs observed how cities bring together people with different skills and ideas and enable them to create new ventures and products. But the creative process also requires some barriers and spatial divisions. If everyone in a science lab can constantly interrupt everyone else, how much science will get done? Communication becomes - in engineering terms - 'noise'. But if the lab building effectively inhibits all contacts; there will be next to no valuable cross-fertilisation.

Now transpose this physical access to the constant electronic access of mobile phones, blackberries etc. (A torrent of email can be disabling. But at least we can read and answer it when we choose.) How many people do you know who never have quiet space around their ears? Whose so-called work is back-to-back meetings, punctuated by mobile calls and text messages? The worst offenders, of course, are people with two (or more) mobile phones. There is no mutual give-and-take about their "desire paths". They are so self-important they assume the right to barge in electronically and interrupt anyone else's work at any time.
Fascinating Alan. Thank you.
Alan, linking those "desire paths" to other issues, such as chipping into an online discussion long after I should be in bed, am I just forging my own desire path by barging in electronically to interrupt another's carefully elaborated thread of thought? Yes, it's time to turn in.
Eddie, On this website everyone is a model of courtesy and consideration.



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