Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label CALARTS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CALARTS. Show all posts

Thursday, September 24, 2015


You remember me going on, some while back, about “desire lines” - also sometimes known as “bootleg trails” (a term which I like a lot) – informal paths created by walkers as an alternative and sometimes as a downright challenge to the formal paths by and planners and landscapers.  Well, once you start looking, these things are everywhere of course, and as I roam around I see them all the time.  This one here is in Salt Lake City (and actually leads to a labyrinth):

And I found this rather less developed one in Ely, Nevada (birthplace of Patricia Nixon) which runs around the side of the public library and didn’t seem actually to be very useful but somebody must think it is otherwise it wouldn’t be there (you can’t argue with desire):

 As a matter of fact Ely also has a labyrinth.  There may be something going on here, right?

Meanwhile at CalArts where I am a very occasional adjunct professor (yep, I have been known to get emails addressed to Professor Nicholson which really is unutterably cool), the landscapers (or maybe just gardeners) have been working to destroy, or at least erase, a desire line I wrote about in that previous blog post.
First there was, and is, a formal paved, in fact cobbled, path leading from the dorms and the lower parking lot up to the main buildings, and as can you see there was then a desire line somewhat further along the bank.

Well, the cobbled path is still there of course but the desire line has gone.  That area has been mulched.  I’m not sure why.  It was just a bit of grass that didn’t seem in need of mulching – but maybe it was too hard to cut the grass there. 

Anyway, it’s clearly quite hard to walk on mulch but I think the irresistible forces of desire are already at work and, to my eyes anyway, a new desire line appears to be forming.  We shall see.  And I’ll keep you informed.   
That other post is here:

Monday, March 2, 2015


I can’t remember exactly when I first came across the term “desire lines” – it was a while back certainly, but I do recall that it was both exciting and disappointing.  It was exciting because here was a term describing something I’d noticed but didn’t know there was a name for.  But it was disappointing because I’d somehow thought I was the only one who’d spotted this phenomenon.  It was a downer to realize that my powers of observation weren’t as unique as I’d thought they were.

A desire line, as you may well know, is a walking path created over time by pedestrians, in preference to more formal routes along a sidewalk or paved track.  It generally involves a shortcut, and repeated walking of the line generally leads to a line of bare grass or mud.  Here’s an especially fine example in Atlantic City

And below there’s an image from the website for vanseo design who say  “Don’t fight desire lines. Learn to embrace them.”  I do.  I definitely do.

Once you’re aware of them, you see them everywhere.  Up at the Cal Arts campus where I’m doing a bit of teaching these days there’s a lot of grass, a lot of pedestrian routes, a helluva lot of parking, and in fact precious few desire lines.  You could argue that this is a mark of good design and that the formal paths are laid out very skillfully and already cater for all of people’s walking desires.  But I knew there had to be some somewhere.  In due course I was able to find one, or depending on how you look at it two of them, but it wasn’t until a couple of weeks back when I was taking my Wednesday afternoon pre-class constitutional.

One of the college dorms is set down a slope from the main walking and driving route that runs through the campus.  There are stairs nearby, the steps painted with yellow edges for health and safety reasons, and in fact it’s probably easier to use the steps than to climb up the slope.  Nevertheless, I saw what appeared to be a desire line running up the slope (above and below).

On closer inspection however I saw, and you can see, that it wasn’t a true desire line at all, but a paved path.  My guess is that this had started out as a genuine desire line, a track of bare earth in the grass, and the powers that be had helpfully paved it, with biggish cobbles for extra traction, making the ascent that much easier.  Fair enough, you might say.

But this hadn’t been enough for the Cal Arts pedestrians.  About fifty feet away there was another desire line still extant, shorter, less steep and as yet unpaved. A REAL desire line.  For all kinds of reasons this made me very happy indeed.