Desire Lines

text and haiku by Kristen Lindquist
(originally posted in October of 2011)

Every now and then in a conversation or presentation, some phrase or concept will resonate with me. This past weekend at the Juice Conference I attended a session “Connecting People to Places,” about how communities can create easier ways for people to get to where they want to go by foot or by bike. Someone from Portland Trails offered several examples of how his organization has makes use of “desire lines”–the beaten-down paths we make when we commonly use a particular, informal route to get from one place to another.

Every community has these desire lines. They track our natural patterns of movement, as opposed to the routes that are laid out for us in the form of sidewalks, streets, and formal trails. If you drive around with the concept in your head, you’ll start noticing them: the path that gets you from a parking lot to a street through a little section of woods; a shortcut across the park; that easy cut-across from the school to the well-traveled street.

Portland Trails takes note of these desire lines in the city and tries to make them into formal paths, to both encourage safer foot traffic and potentially transform a trampled and eroding dirt path into something more aesthetically pleasing to the community. I’ve just got the phrase stuck in my head because I’m a poet and am drawn to something that uses a strong word like desire to denote something so practical and (literally) grounded. The metaphorical potential is huge.

Desire lines: those paths
where human need wore its way
to what it wanted.