Desire path

  (Redirected from Social trail)
A typical desire path

A desire path (often referred to as desire line in transportation planning, and also known as a game trail, social trail, herd path, cow path, elephant path, goat track, pig trail, use trail or bootleg trail) is a path created as a consequence of erosion caused by human or animal foot-fall traffic. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination. Width and erosion severity can be indicators of how much traffic a path receives. Desire paths emerge as shortcuts where constructed ways take a circuitous route, have gaps, or are non-existent.

Parks and nature areasEdit

A desire line created path defined by clover through a designated protected woodland and wildlife area at Theydon Bois in Essex, England

Desire paths sometimes cut through sensitive habitats and off-limit areas, threatening wildlife and park security. However, they also provide an indicator to park management of activity concentration. The National Park Service unit at the Yosemite National Park in the United States of America uses this indicator to help establish its general management plan.[1]

A desire path (right) merges with a footpath (center) in Helsinki, Finland

Trampling studies have consistently documented that impacts on soil and vegetation occur rapidly with initial use of desire paths. As few as 15 passages over a site can be enough to create a distinct trail, the existence of which then attracts further use.[2]:27 This finding contributed to the creation of the Leave No Trace education program, which, among other things, teaches that travelers in nature areas should either stay on designated trails or, when off trail, distribute their travel lines so as to not inadvertently create new trails in unsustainable locations.[3]

Land managers have devised a variety of techniques to block the creation of desire paths including fences, dense vegetation, or signage. However, hikers still penetrate these barriers. Because of this, state of the art trail design attempts to avoid the need for barriers and restrictions and instead seeks to bring trail layout and user desires in line with each other – both through physical design and through persuasive outreach to users.[2]:16


Landscapers sometimes accommodate desire paths by paving them, thereby integrating them into the official path network rather than blocking them.[4][5] Sometimes, land planners have deliberately left land fully or partially unpathed, waiting to see what desire paths are created, and then paving those.[4] In Finland, planners are known to visit parks immediately after the first snowfall, when the existing paths are not visible.[6][unreliable source?] People naturally choose desire paths, clearly marked by their footprints, which can then be used to guide the routing of new purpose-built paths.

On the other hand, access to desire paths may be blocked in an attempt to enforce the use of official paths. Techniques applied may include fencing-off desire paths, the erection of signs forbidding their use, and re-vegetating well-worn tracks.

A desire path has been roped off for re-vegetation in Brisbane, Australia

Other uses of the conceptEdit

The image of a user-created path, in seeming defiance of authority, across the earth between the concrete, has captured the imagination of many as a metaphor for, variously, anarchism, intuitive design, individual creativity, or the wisdom of crowds.[7][8][9][10][11][12]

In urban planning, the concept of desire paths can be used when analyzing traffic patterns in any mode of travel. See, for example, its use in the 1959 Chicago Area Transportation Study to describe choices commuters made about railroad and subway trips.[13]

In software design, the term is used to describe the action of people widely adopting the same methods to overcome the limitations of the software they are using.[14] A representative example is Twitter, which has "paved" a number of desire paths by integrating them into the service, including @ mentions, hashtags, and group discussions, although not always precisely mimicking the behaviors of users.[15][16]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Lubell, Mark. "ESP172 Lecture 9: National Parks" (PDF). University of California, Davis.
  2. ^ a b Hampton, Bruce; Cole, David (1988). Soft paths: how to enjoy the wilderness without harming it. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-2234-6.
  3. ^ Marion, Jeffrey L.; Reid, Scott E. (January 2001). "Development of the U.S. Leave No Trace Program: An Historical Perspective" (PDF). Leave No Trace: Center for Outdoor Ethics.
  4. ^ a b Kurt Kohlstedt (January 30, 2016). "Least Resistance: How Desire Paths Can Lead to Better Design". 99% Invisible. Retrieved February 3, 2016.
  5. ^ Bob Spieldenner (August 5, 2014). "Dirt paths on Drillfield to be paved". Virginia Tech News. Retrieved February 3, 2016.
  6. ^ "Earls Court Project Application 1: The 21st Century High Street" (PDF). June 2011.
  7. ^ Myhill, Carl (2004), "Commercial Success by Looking for Desire Lines" (PDF), in Masodian, M; Jones, S; Rogers, B (eds.), 6th Asia Pacific Computer-Human Interaction Conference (APCHI 2004), Rotorua, New Zealand: Springer-Verlag
  8. ^ Lidwell, William; Holden, Katrina; Butler, Jill (2010). Universal principles of design: 125 ways to enhance usability, influence perception, increase appeal, make better design decisions, and teach through design. Rockport Publishers. ISBN 978-1-59253-587-3.
  9. ^ Norman, Donald (2010). Living with Complexity. The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-01486-1.
  10. ^ Throgmorton, James; Eckstein, Barbara. "Desire Lines: The Chicago Area Transportation Study and the Paradox of Self in Post-War America". The 3Cities Project. Archived from the original on 6 July 2015. Retrieved 26 May 2015.
  11. ^ "WGBH: A Cape Cod Notebook - Desire Lines by Robert Finch". Archived from the original on 2012-02-12. Retrieved 2006-06-06.
  12. ^ Nichols, Laura (2014). "Social desire paths: a new theoretical concept to increase the usability of social science research in society". Theory & Society. 43 (6): 647–665. doi:10.1007/s11186-014-9234-3.
  13. ^ State of Illinois. (1959) "Chicago Area Transportation Study" p. 40. State of Illinois, Springfield, IL. Retrieved 14 March 2012 from Paul V. Galvin Library, Illinois Institute of Technology.
  14. ^ Malone, Erin; Crumlish, Christian. "Pave the Cowpaths". Designing Social Interfaces. Retrieved 26 May 2015.
  15. ^ Honeycutt, C; Herring, S C (2009). "Beyond Microblogging: Conversation and Collaboration via Twitter". Proceedings of the 42nd Hawai'i International Conference on System Sciences: 1–10. CiteSeerX doi:10.1109/HICSS.2009.89. ISBN 978-0-7695-3450-3 – via IEEE Xplore.
  16. ^ Draucker, Fawn; Collister, Lauren (2015-11-09). "Managing Participation through Modal Affordances on Twitter". Open Library of Humanities. 1 (1). doi:10.16995/olh.21. ISSN 2056-6700.  

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