Hot and Sandy

Travel writing, pictures and stuff for people I know. Quite a lot of cycling talk, and some semi-controlled ranting. Hiking, outdoor and two-wheeled stuff, perhaps a little computing when it's worth talking about. Meandering thoughts.

Friday, September 1

Path Designing

Near my flat there is a supermarket which shares grounds with a doctor surgery. Between the two there lies the car park, and several paths surrounded by grass lead from one to the other, and around the premises.

Alongside the paths there are unsightly patches of dirt, dusty in hot weather and like miniature mud-wallows when it rains. It must be really frustrating to design a public space, only for it to not work as planned. Why would the General Public choose to abscond from the paths so thoughtfully provided for them?

The answer can be divided into three causes. The most significant is that the paths are simply in the wrong place. As human beings, we can all calculate effective routes between two places (sofa > fridge > sofa, for example). When we can simultaneously *see* both places the process is childsplay. Why would a rational person walk a sinuous route when a straight line would be better? Even worse, why would we choose a couple of 90-degree dog-legs? Is it any wonder that users reject a route which looked great on the architect's model? It's almost an insult to intelligence, a triumph of design over function.

Other reasons for the wholehearted (subconscious) rejection of stupid paths are individualistic decision-making and pack behaviour. Perhaps if the grass was in Fred's back yard he would stick to the path a little more, because guess who has to keep re-planting the grass? Fred. In a public space, nobody cares about this because the cost (although arguably still borne by users) is shared so widely. People move in packs. Families all move together; even strangers tend to mimic route decisions. I was once at a hugely crowded gig. Some renegade discovered that a fire door could be opened without an alarm sounding. Suddenly everyone moved to try and leave through the illicit exit, and it became quicker to go through the main doors. Same thing happens when the magical winking of a new till opening happens at any shop...

The point of this is to issue a plea - Titchmarsh, that Sven guy, and other garden design people PLEASE STOP encouraging entirely impractical paths. I do not want to run the gauntlet of a "leprechaun's stepping stone" zig-zag bloody obstacle course to take my coffee to my aunt's (new) Thai-style mini-gazebo featurette. I'd rather do what my ancestors have done for millennia, and just take a stroll on the grass.


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