01 April 2009

Subconscious Democracy and Desire

Subconscious Democracy and Desire
ADDENDUM: This Desire Line has now been made permanent!

What we have here is a Desire Line. I walked around the corner last week and saw it freshly painted on the sidewalk. Right at the intersection between the nation's busiest bike street, Nørrebrogade, and the street along The Lakes.

Most cyclists will head straight on here, towards the city centre, but many others ride up onto the sidewalk to get to the next street over. They always have. Now, technically, this "sidewalkin'" is illegal but when you have a few thousand people doing it each day you have two options. You can stand there and issue fines until you're blue in the face or you can do what the City of Copenhagen does: respect the peoples' Desire Line - as decided by subconscious democratic consensus - and turn it into a bike lane.

The phrase Desire Line, or Desire Path, was coined by the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard in his book The Poetics of Space, from 1958. It describes the human tendency of carving a path between two points. You see them everywhere. Urban planners in, say, a park construct pathways and then a trodden-down path is formed through the grass. This is the route that the users subconsciously desire to walk. It is almost impossible to plan pathways. The people will ulimately decide. I've read that urban planners in some cities visit their parks after it snows, in order to see clearly where people desire to walk.

M Bachelard gave it a lovely name, but the streets of most old cities follow the ancient desire lines beaten by people and livestock.

I think it lovely that the City of Copenhagen respects these human desires and adjusts the infrastructure to follow our desires.

Minor Adjustment
This Desire Line heads from the corner, as above, and along the sidewalk, past that pedestrian interrupting my infrastructure photo, and over to the next street.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

damn that pedestrian really ruins thatotherwise beautifull infrastructure photo completely, I feel your pain, and urge you to delete it.

fp

Mikael said...

i have had serious considerations about removing the photo. however, i feel that the light shining on the fresh paint of the bike lane is optimal. Many readers here on Copenhagenize work in urban planning and transport departments so they may be able to see the quality of the paint and thickness with which is applied much better.

I could have cropped the pesky pedestrian out, however the abovementioned planners and transport people also work with colleagues that are responsible for placement of fire hydrants in urban settings, so the hydrant on the left could be of interest to many.

all in all, a horrible photograph, but with some important points of interest.

Anonymous said...

The Desired Path? Good humor Mikael, keep the pic in place.
Jack

spiderleggreen said...

I think you did what you could. If you had placed that picture first, the Desire Path would be confused with the Path to Desire. Very confusing, but desire can be. I'm glad you overcame your editorial concerns and included the shot. To have done otherwise, would deny your viewers the opportunity to decide for themselves what desire is or isn't.

melancholic optimist said...

There is a third option, which is what usually happens in Portland (as in the case of coming to a complete stop at stop signs, as opposed to carefully rolling through if there's no other traffic) - they neither enforce the law, nor change it, but simply complain about cyclists being lawbreakers :)

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you've seen this, but it seems apropos to the topic: http://tinyurl.com/d3vbkk Too bad it's not a real product, yet. Val

Mikael said...

thanks for all the moral support regarding the photo.

and that third option... forgot that one. thanks.

Rick Torseth said...

I'm not sure. Over here in Seattle we would normally need more photographic evidence before we could reach a decision.

Rick

Adrienne Johnson said...

It is nice to see that everyone can feel comfortable with just being themselves, here ;]

mikey2gorgeous said...

I love infrastructure! ;)

Mikael said...

you people are great. :-)

Tiago Moraes said...

Dear Mikael,

I have been a keen reader of your blog, and I must say that today I identified something that has been bothering me for a while.

I have mixed feelings about the whole Copenhagen Bike Culture 2.0.

Why does it have to be so perfect? I never know wether I feel great to know that such place can exist in this world, or wether I feel frustrated that my city is so far away from that. It is a bit worse in fact, my city will never be like that! I love cycling here, but I know that I must fight for my cycling rights and my life really. And you guys have reached the point of Bachelard applied to city planing, Its too much!!!

It kind of makes me feel ashamed...

JN said...

There is an unsourced rumour that, on my university campus, the original buildings had no pathways between them when they were first built. The administration simply allowed campus users to beat their own paths through the lawn, and then paved over them.

Anonymous said...

They've made it into an actual bike path now, I hope you'll update the photos...