A desire path is one you take in the woods because you want to…

Forest Park - St. Louis, Missouri

Parks & Rec departments have the task of creating, for us, paths designed to make our lives easier. Think about how they would go about doing this.

After surveying, code enforcing, and following regulations, they’ve decided the proper direction and route. They’ve carefully outlined the sides of the path with rocks and wood chips,  placing signs in uncertain areas. It’s now open to the public: we can run, bike, or walk these trails and never worry about getting lost or falling into our neighbor’s well (just their dog shit!) Walking through the woods has never been so simple.

Our user-experiences of the path notwithstanding– is it a simple process?

No. Plus these trails are not enough for curious minds. The trails are busy. They don’t go exactly where we want them to go. We end up stomping out completely new paths based on desirability, special interest or practicality. Humans and non-human animals notice our desire paths and take our word for it. “This is a good path.” The more footfalls vouched for the path, the more we know it’s likely easier, safer, and better-directed.

Rickmansworth, England

Where do people walk? (Not there!)

Desirable paths visible after snowfall - St. Paul, Minnesota

It’s unofficial —

It’s innovative —

It’s … Desirable Path!

(It can be a subvertisement for the live performance of Desire Path going “on tour”.)

Finding desire paths inside a busy city. Imagine what the city look like after it snows, for example. How many of these desire paths are erased from memory or ignored? And what about the asphalt roads–would you consider these desire paths or merely part of the commodity-shipping nexus?

Consider how much of the city is free for exploration, and how much is open to desirability. Also consider how much of the city is based on relatively undesirable paths, and how much is based on commodity routes for mass transit and shipping? (Here we go with the capital analysis again!) At any rate many streets in older cities began as desire paths. The newest cities on the planet have frighteningly little or no beginnings as socially-desirable pathways. What shifted?

CivCity - Rome, a city planning computer game.

Did you know?

City planners install new highway systems to divide and conquer “undesirable” neighborhoods (i.e. gentrification highways.)

Did you know?

City grid blocks were originally installed in colonized cities of the Roman Empire in order to make them easier to observe and control by militaries.


If this perspective and city-worldview was designed for conquering indigenous people, doesn’t that mean we largely live in cities inhabited entirely by already-conquered people — ourselves? And then, who or what is that conqueror? (Hint: what is greater than capital? Another hint: I don’t have the answer.)

I-83 in Baltimore, Maryland

(backlink “Baltimore City’s Past Present and Future”)

“Wayfinding” is the traditional navigation methods used by indigenous people of Polynesia. In more recent times wayfinding has been used in the context of architecture to refer to the user-experience of orientation and choosing a path within the built environment, and it also refers to the set of architectural and design elements that aid orientation.

What if –

Human paths were based on their desirability at a local level.

What if –

Wayfinding and access were factors deciding how we traveled from place to place.

What if –

Path divination is not a credentialed activity, in fact, that city planning offices have control over.

What if –

Our decidability in creating our own paths puts us in charge of the best use time, social assets and local resources.

What if –

Human desire paths create roads to other desires through social asset-mapping: discovering greater common needs and solutions within and without nearby networks of other individuals, families and neighborhoods.

Ant communication

Our social trail system helps us create mental maps of social assets in our neighborhoods — like how ants in a colony use pheromones to pass information to other ants about resources and the well-being of the ant city. Can we create social trails to help us better understand the social context that we live in? What would that look like? And would this trailing reflect a difference in consciousness, from the top-down perspective (“Before myself, I have to consider what [authorities say] is good for society”) to the individual perspective (“Before [what society says is] society, I want to consider what [I learn from experience] is good for me, my family, my tribe, my neighborhood, my bio-region”)?

The future is unwritten.