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Saturday, October 18, 2008

If you build it, will they follow?

I'm going to subject you to one of my pet peeves.

The University of Toronto is in the process of replacing all its pathways. I really like the new style of path even though it's probably very expensive. It will improve the look of the university.

That's not the peeve. Look at the photograph below. It shows the newly completed paths leading up from the subway stop on the corner of University and College (behind me). The ramp is the easiest access to my building. Several hundred people a day walk up the path from the subway stop and up the ramp into the building.

When the stone masons were building the path I mentioned that the old pathway didn't align with the much newer ramp and, consequently, people were cutting across the grass in order to save time. That's why the grass is worn away at the base of the ramp. The guys who were laying the stones agreed that the fancy new path should at least clip off the corner by the lamp post to encourage people to follow it.

They were overruled by their supervisor who claims he doesn't have the authority to move or change the paths. So they simply replaced the old paved pathway with the nice new stone blocks and moved on.

How ridiculous. My pet peeve is this. You should build pathways where people actually walk and not where you want them to walk.




8 comments :

  1. You have to wonder at stupidity like that.

    Back when they were building the University of Calgary (where I did my undergrad) they did not put in any paths for the first few years. They then took aerial photographs and placed paths where people were actually walking. It created an interesting set of pathways, which makes for a more interesting campus.

    I'm curious if they'll do the same thing as they expand the campus. Somehow I doubt it...

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  2. dangerously close to grumpy old man yelling "Get ON my lawn!"

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  3. When I was a student at Doane College they built a new Math, Science, and Arts building, and I asked one of the contractor people at the time, hey, why don't you wait a semester and then put in the walkways wherever pathways develop? Well, they didn't, and guess what? The walkways have never been walked on and there are well-established paths across the grass!

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  4. Oh I don't know about the whole "wisdom of crowds" thing. I am from the Maritimes and there are two types of city there. In places like Saint John and St. John's (I know, I know, don't get me started) the streets are the result of the "natural" process suggested here. The problem is that you have to be a Calvinist or on serious drugs to drive in those cities. The other kind of Maritime city is Halifax or Fredericton where the military went in first and laid out a grid pattern of roads with a mind to terrain, sight lines and troop movements. They then shot people who walked on the grass. A couple of centuries later and you can still get through town without a map.

    The answer is in enforcement. Put up some surveillance cameras and RFID readers. Pretty soon we will all have subcutaneous RFID tags so it should be easy to monitor (and bring to justice) the grass molesters. Remember only those that have something to hide care about being watched.

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  5. This is one of my pet peeves as well. I grew up next to a park that was built the right way - the (incidentally female - does that matter in any way?) architect had the entire space plowed, left it like that for about six months, then came back, looked at the pathways trodden by feet of passersby and built her blueprint around those. This is one of the rare parks I have visited in which people preferably use pathways instead of veering off onto the grass.

    I tried to suggest a similar approach on my campus some time ago, only to be met by uncomfortable, stunned stares as if I said something completely ridiculous - who am I to challenge the aesthetics of architectural experts?!

    I have since extended the idea to other, perhaps inappropriate areas of life.

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  6. What you're describing is what tranport planners call a 'desire line'.

    Tranport planners have a long history of ignoring them, often assisted and compounded by the stupidity of politicians and management, who know better, or have cost constraints or patches of grass to protect.

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  7. I once read a biography of George Washington Carver, who was charged with laying out the paths at the Tuskegee Institute. His first couple of tries didn't work, and then he switched to the "build them where they walk" strategy and was more successful.

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  8. Here at UAF, they're of the opinion that if they send enough people to chase others off the grass, they can force students to use the walks. The campus is littered with signs saying `stay off the grass,` which are more of an eyesore than the actual foot-paths.

    What really gets me is the fact that our grass is under snow for 6 months of the year! All this headache and enforcement for something no one but staff is around to appreciate anyhow!

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