I can be a little paranoid about groups and the things groups do, but I’ve (almost) always been warmed by instances when people combine in mundane, anonymous ways to express a collective will.  My favorite example of this is “desire paths” (also called “aspirational paths”).  It’s when people decide sidewalks aren’t enough, or are unhelpfully placed, and literally beat a new path.

Sweet Juniper! describes the phenomenon:

It is an urban legend on many college campuses that many sidewalks and pathways were not planned at all, but paved by the university after students created their own paths from building to building, straying from those originally prescribed.

It’s not just urban legend.  I distinctly recall an instance when this happened at my undergraduate college.  Students beat a diagonal path across a plot of land near the college newspaper where I spent most of my time, and my last semester there a sidewalk was poured to cover the path.  I remember thinking, “That’s democracy!”

The photos below are of desire paths in Detroit.  Click on the image for a larger view.

It’s the kind of thing that’s ripe for metaphor.

About the Author

Derek Bridges

Derek Bridges lives in New Orleans, trading in words and pictures. A carpetbagger of long standing, he grew up in the top right corner of IL and later went to college in the middle cornfield part. He has also lived in MS and FL, for educational purposes only, and was diasporized for a time in TX.

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