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10/02/2020

Desire lines through the city

We know metro lines, bus lines… but there are also desire lines. A wonderful, poetic name to describe the shortcuts unforeseen by urban planning. These lines disregard intended trajectories, cut across and redesign the city with every step. A personal map of extraordinary transport.
They reveal the unpredictability of man in a rational city.

Space reinvented

 
I thought at first it referred to a tram line (christened desire) or an artistic sculpture injecting desire into the rigid urban network. 
In reality, a desire line is a perfectly official urban planning term, used to describe the unofficial routes we take in urban travel, the most direct paths that planners had not anticipated. They reveal the unpredictability of man in a rational city. They are referred to as sneckdown when the snow provides them for cyclists, skaters and pedestrians.
We have all cut across a park to save time, without following the paved paths.
 
We have all taken the shortcuts which shave twelve seconds off our trip because they are so obvious… Across roundabouts, hard shoulders, bushes, car parks, because it makes more sense to cut through there than to obediently follow the pavement. Desir paths allow us to escape the forced routes and, without realising it, we innovate: we shake up the overly-rigorous design of the city. We create our space, step by step, thanks to this choreography of movement as well as the clothes that goes with it, modular, embodying a certain equilibrium.
 

Invisible and personal journeys 

 
I often browse the fascinating blog “Dérive Zonale”. He cites Sonia Lavadinho’s definition: a desire line is “the optimal curve of the path that a pedestrian leaves in his wake when he is completely free to roam. [...] Desire lines are constantly countered by other forces... (vehicles, urban design) [...] There is also strong tension between the planners' desire […] to channel the pedestrian within designated lines of force that are specially dedicated to him, and the desire of the pedestrians themselves to go wherever they want, using all the resources of the many spaces at their disposal...”. Common sense in motion!
 
Our urban journeys are full of these desire lines: cutting through a cross-roads beyond the pedestrian crossing to reach the street corner, taking the tangent on a roundabout because the pavement clearly isn’t designed for walkers’ legs, jump between two bushes because the next pedestrian crossing is far too far away. 
How about inventing a trip across Paris via desire lines? We could imagine maps with the most beautiful desire lines. Because they are also found in Brasilia, Detroit and Montreal
 
The city is bisected by these lines as each pedestrian, scooter rider or cyclist draws his or her own, invisibly tracing unique urban routes. Just as the sky has an invisible aerology (winds, thermals and breezes), the city has its desire lines hidden under its skin. By observing them, we rediscover the wonderful pedestrian who proves that all paths lead to man.
 
Texte : Guillaume Desmurs
Photos : Le Monde, Medium, The Guardian

 

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