Olifantenpaadjes: desire lines creating resistance paths

by Carles Baiges Camprubí

In the image above, the girl on the right side follows the bike lane, that bends for some reason. The girl on the left decides to continue straight, out the lane, but the clearing in the grass reveals she is not the first to do so. The spontaneous paths created as a consequence of foot or bicycle traffic where there was no road or sidewalk are called «desire lines» or «desire paths». In Dutch they are usually called olifantenpaadjes (elephant paths) and in French chemin de l’âne (donkey paths). I have seen in many articles and lectures that the term was created by the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, even that he used it for the first time in his book La poétique de l’espace. But there is a discussion about this attribution and I could not find it in the original book neither. Despite the origin of the expression it is a very useful concept to study people in public space.

We can easily observe them in the natural areas, for instance when people take shortcuts to the sinusoidal paths that go up to a hill. It is more difficult to see the actual lines in the city, where the hard pavements cover most of its surface. Albeit they are there, visible or invisible. We can see them with our bare eyes when there is grass, soil, sand or when it snows. Or if we look closely when there is mud or dust that make our footprints show up in the asphalt and the paving stones. And even when we can not see the traces we have tools to record and represent it. Jan Gehl, an architect famous for his studies about public space, encourages the use of these techniques (see Gehl & Svarre, 2013), either tracing the lines or looking for traces.

In the natural parks pathways are often draw to dissuade visitors to step on areas where their presence would damage the terrain, the flora and the fauna. In the city people (and vehicles) are driven for security purposes: to prevent accidents, congestion,… From the design point of view I would say there are two strategies to do so: a soft one, inviting and suggesting a certain route, and a hard one, blocking and prohibiting all the rest. Landscape architects use different tricks (landmarks, information panels, benches,…) to keep them people on the road. When this is not enough, fences, walls, canals and trenches are used.

Urban designers constantly employ subtle techniques to separate and lead different kinds of traffic. A color or material change might be enough. A small level difference, like the kerb or speed bumps. Lines, arrows and words painted on the floor. In Amsterdam a simple ceramic tile is able to avoid people park their bikes where they are not supposed to. When things get more complicated, specially when it involves motor vehicles, traffic signs are needed, as well as bollards. Finally, if we definitely want to keep people out we would use fences and walls. Its height will tell us how badly we want to avoid people breaking in, like the barriers separating the train rails are taller than the few ones protecting some tram rails. Here we stay in the material level, but obviously there are many laws (more and more) regulating public space as well, and actually some of these objects are its representation.

We can see these mechanisms the soft mechanisms at Jonas Daniël Meijerplein. If you are biking the North side of Nieuwe Herengracht, once you reach the square you are «invited» to get off. The street pavement stops and small gravel covers until almost the border with the water, making it unpleasant and harder to bike, but most people still do. When you arrive to Weesperstraat you will find no zebra crossing, no traffic light, not even a ramp to come down from the pavement. But still, people bike through Jonas Daniël Meijerplein. You can easily recognize the traces in the gravel and you do not have to wait more than five minutes to spot a disobedient. Sometimes ethnographer’s work may be not very distant from a biologist in the forest, looking for footprints or waste to understand the animals.

While doing the observations I realized that there is another way to find these desire lines: looking for the obstacles employed to prevent these routes. In the movie by van der Burg (2011), the alderman for Environmental Issues in Leusden shows how they dug a «anti-tank ditch» (sic) to block a path that people was using. People continued to use it, climbing the dike, and finally a path was created. First public resources spent to prevent people’s will and finally more resources spent to do what they are (silently) asking for. In the same movie an architect suggests that in construction some budged should be saved to improve the space after its opening, based on people’s use. Or as the cooperative of architects LaCol (2013) propose, spaces should be seen as unfinished projects, always evolving.

Amsterdam does not use much fences to arrange the public space, but I came across some that are hard to justify. One of them is placed in the bridge over the Kostverlorenvaart next to Surinameplein. If your intention is to continue walking or biking next to the canal you won’t have it easy, no matter your way of transportation. You will have to make a long cut to one side or the other to find your way to cross the street. Not only there are no zebra crossings, but a railing would block you to do so. Only on the East side bikes are allowed to cross, without any logical explanation that would explain why.

The railing is actually broken at one point that matches exactly with the crossing if you want to continue Baarjesweg-Amstelveenseweg. My first idea was that it would be a case of DIY urbanism, and I pictured an annoyed anonymous citizen sawing the pipes in the middle of the night. A quick query to the historical images of Google Streetview took apart my romantic theory. At least until August 2009 the space was occupied by a traffic sign reinforcing the fact that cars can only turn right at this point. On the May 2014 image the post has disappeared, reason unknown. It could have been still an angry neighbor, but also a car accident or just the lack of maintenance.

Whatever is the explanation of the disruption in the railing, the fact is that the aperture is there and it can be used as a gateway to cross the street. But in my observation I could not see anybody crossing it (besides me). One explanation is that the aperture is not big enough for a bike and there was very few pedestrians in the intersection, most of the people who were potential users were biking.

In the same intersection what I did observe was the fact that people bike against the traffic to cross the bridge when coming from the Baarjesweg. It actually was the majority of the routes and even a policeman in his motorbike crossed contraflow. In one hour observation I only saw two people getting off the bike to do so. On the other side, when coming from Surinameplein, if you want to turn left to take Derde Kostverlorenkade, you also have to choose between biking a little bit more or use a zebra crossing intended only for the other sense. This creates small conflicts among people, since you do not have any traffic light to know when you are able to cross and there is no waiting space for those not following the rules.

Even if the disruption is not that big, there is no apparent reason for urban designers to block this crossing. One explanation would be to improve the car flow from Overtoom and Amstelveenseweg to Surinameplein. But a zebra crossing would cause any inconvenience to cars if the traffic lights were well coordinated.

My observation in this intersection was only one hour one morning during the weekdays, and without precisely counting how many people was doing what. But Te Brömmelstroet (2014), using the tools from the danish studio Copenhagenize (2014), has recently traced almost 20.000 cyclists movements in 9 intersections in Amsterdam to analyze their behavior. This kind of studies could improve our cities by making bike lanes safer, but they can also break some prejudices, like the often heard image of Amsterdam rogue cyclists. In average 87% of the cyclists conformed to all rules, and 7% are «momentumists»: cyclists who follow their own route and adapt certain formal rules to suit their own ends, without causing any dangerous situations or conflicts.

The desire lines could be compared to De Certeau’s (1984) tactics. A group of unorganized citizens using «the art of the weak»: creating paths just walking or biking again and again on the same place, facing the strategies that were decided for them. Everyday small acts of resistance challenging the powerful, those who use machines, technical skills, resources and authority to impose their vision.


Copenhagenize. (2014). Episode 09 - Desire Lines. [Movie] [available in: vimeo.com/73926816]
De Certeau, M. (1984). The practice of everyday life. Berkeley: U of California P
Gehl, J., & Svarre, B. (2013). How to study public life. Island Press.
LaCol & Medina, N. (2013). Assaig sobre assaig. [Movie]
[available in: www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFw-yOzB9YQ, in Catalan, English subtitles available]
te Brömmelstroet, M. (2014). The Desire Lines of Bicycle Users in Amsterdam. Universiteit van Amsterdam / Copenhagenize Design Co.
[available in: www.copenhagenize.eu/dox/Copenhagenize_Desire_Lines_Amsterdam.pdf]
van der Burg, J. (2011). Desire Lines. [Movie]
[available in: vimeo.com/33178440, in Dutch, English subtitles available]

Carles Baiges Camprubí (Barcelona, 1985) is an architect and urban sociologist, partner of the architects’ cooperative Lacol (www.lacol.coop) and activist at the housing cooperative La Borda (www.laborda.coop). He mainly works on citizen participation, public space and housing rights. 

We are alvailable in english too!

To read more posts in english on Paisaje Transversal blog, follow this link: http://bit.ly/PT_English

Image credits:
Image 01: Olifantenpaadje (source: Jan-Dirk van der Burg)
Image 02: Map (source: Carles Baiges Camprubí, base Stamen Maps)
Image 03: Def (source: Google Street View)

1 comentario:

Dept. Informática dijo...

Una excelente reflexión sorbe arquitectura urbana!


#BancosAtocha #Churruca15 #cities4youth #createdestruct #DebatesUrbanos #DigitalMX #EgiaMapa #EnMedios #InnovaciónCiudadana #MásÁvila #Meetcommons #OlotMésB #OpenUrbanLab #P2PWikiSprint #PiensaSol #SEMGetxo #SmartcitizensCC #UrbanCommerce #Vota11plazas #Wikilovesmonuments 15M 17 ODS A Coruña AC Etsam Accesibilidad Activando Espacios Ada Colau Adam Majó Advocacy Planning AECID AGE Agenda 2030 Agenda Urbana Española Agora2015DSS Agricultura Agrupaciones de Arquitectos Urbanistas Airbnb Alcalá de Guadaíra Alcalá de Henares Alcobendas Aldea Digital Alfafar Alimentación Alquiler social Amara Berri Amasté Ambilly Análisis Análisis Urbano Andar Andrés Walliser Anillo verde Applied Aprendizaje Aprendizaje colectivo Aragón Aranjuez ArchDaily Arganzuela Arquia Arquia/Próxima arquitectespelpaisatge Arquitectura Arquitectura Bioclimática Arquitectura social Arquitecturas Colectivas Arte Arte Urbano ASA Assemble Astra Gernika Asturias Atenas Attac Autobarrios Autoconstrucción Autogestión Autonomía Autourbanismo Auzoetxe Avanti Avanti Ávila Baleares Barcelona Barrios Vivos Basurama BAT Benidorm Bernardo Gutiérrez Bernardo Secchi Bicicleta BiciMAD BID Bien común Bienal de Paisaje Rural Big Data Bilbao Biodiversidad biopolitica Bizkaia Blog Boa Mistura Bogotá Bolivia Bottom up Brasil Buen Vivir Burbuja Inmobiliaria Burgos C4C Calles Completas Cambio climático Cambio de época Camiños Seguros Canalejas Cañada Real CarpeVia Cartagena Cartas de Navegación Urbana CARTO Cartografías y Mapas Casa de Campo Castilla La Mancha Castilla y León Cataluña Cazorla CENTAC CentroCentro Centros Históricos Chamartín Circe City Making Cityfollowers Ciudad Ciudad 2.0 Ciudad compacta Ciudad Deseada Ciudad Discreta Ciudad Marca Ciudad Paramétrica ciudad real Ciudad sensible Ciudad Sostenible Ciudadanía digital ciudades Ciudades Emocionales Ciutat Orgànica CivicWise Club de Debates Urbanos COAM Cocreación Código Abierto Codiseño Cogestión Cohesión Social Cohousing ColaBoraBora Colectivos Colombia Comandante Tom Comercio Común Conama CONAMA 2012 Concursos Condiciones Metropolitanas Contemporáneas Conecta3 Conectividad Conferencias Congresos Consol Prados Contaminación Cooperación Internacional CooperaGava Copyleft Córdoba LUZe Coronavirus Corredores multifuncionales COVID-19 Covivienda Creando Redes Creatividad Social Crisis Crónicas Crowdfunding CSOA La Morada Cultura Cultura Libre Cumpleaños en el bloque Cunctatio Cursos y formación Daniel Ferrer DataViz David Prieto debate Debates Deep Learning Democracia desarrollismo Desarrollo Urbano Sostenible Descargas Desequilibrio Desigualdad Destrucción Creativa DG Regio Día Mundial del Hábitat Diagnóstico Diamantina Dimas García Moreno Dinamización económica Diputación de Barcelona Diseño Diseño Cívico Diseño Colaborativo Diseño Urbano Diversificación DIY DMH2013 Do It Yourself Documentos Domenico di Siena Donostia DOT_Euskadi DPR Barcelona Ecología Ecología Urbana Economía Economía social Ecosistema cultural Ecuador Edificio España Edificios públicos vacíos Eduardo Mangada Eduardo Serrano Educación Educación Expandida EDUSI EDUSIOlot EDUSIZGZ Edward Soja Eficiencia energética Eginbook El campo de la cebada El Escorial El Paseo de Jane Empoderamiento Empresa English Enrique Bardají ensanche Entorno Natural Entrevistas EQUIciuDAD Equipo de Redacción Ergosfera Erin Johnson Escuchar y Transformar Escuchar y Transformar la ciudad Espacio Espacio Comunitario Espacio Público ESPACIOS Espacios de batalla Espalet España España Creativa España vaciada especio público Especulación Estados Unidos Estudio Ethel Baraona ETSAM Europa European Green Capital 2012 Euskadi Euskara Eva Morales Eventos Expediciones Experiencias Exposiciones Extremadura F3 Arquitectura Fab City de Barcelona Fab Lab Fabricación digital FEDER Federico Soriano Feminismo Financiación colectiva Fluxus Foro de las Ciudades Fotografía Francesco Careri Francia FRAVM Fuencarral-El Pardo Fuenlabrada Galicia Gavà GBCe Gehl Architects Género Gentrificación Geografía Georges Perec Gestión Comunitaria Gestión de residuos Getxo Gijón Girona Glocal Gobernanza Graffiti Graffitiaccion Grands Voisins GrowGreen GTR Guadalmedina H2020 Habitabilidad básica Habitat Hábitat III Habitat3 hACERIA Hangout HarineraZGZ Hécate Hécate Ingenieria Henri Lefebvre Herramientas Digitales Hipnopedia urbana Hipotecas Hiria Kolektiboa Holanda Huertos urbanos Huesca Iberoamérica Ibiza ICC Iconoclasistas Idensitat IGOP Imagina un Bulevar Improvistos Increasis Indicadores Indicadores Participativos Índice de Necesidades de Regeneración infodayES Infraestructura urbana Infraestructura verde Infraestructuras Inguru Innovación Innovación Ciudadana innovación social Innovación Urbana InPar INR Institucionalización INTA Integralidad Inteligencia Ciudadana Inteligencia Colectiva Interdepartamentalidad Intermediae Intermodalidad Internet Interseccionalidad Investigación Irekia Isabel Martin Ruíz Isla de calor Izaskun Chinchilla Jane Jacobs Javier Burón Javier Puldain Jazar Joan Subirats Jordi Borja Jornadas Jornet Llop Pastor José Fariña José María Ezquiaga José María Romero Juan Murillo Juanma Murua Juego Jueves de Churruca Julián Salas La Casa Invisible La Liminal La Paz Laboratorios Ciudadanos Laboratorios Ciudadanos Abiertos Laboratorios Urbanos Abiertos lacasinegra Lacol LAG_Euskadi LandLab Las Rozas Las Vegas Latinoamérica Lavapiés Lecturas Demoscópicas LeerMadrid Lefevbre Left Hand Rotation León 11 Lezama Lisboa Locales comerciales vacíos Logística Los Madriles Los Pirineos LOTP-CLM Luis Nadal Lurraldea2040 LurraldeBizia Madrid Madrid Think Tank Málaga Malasaña Manresa Manu Fernández Manuela Carmena Mapeo colectivo Mappe Marea Verde Marina Blázquez Mario Gaviria Matadero Madrid MCAS Medialab-Prado Medina de Pomar Medio Ambiente medios de comunicación Melilla Mercado de Legazpi MesVerdBenicalap Metodología Metodología DCP México Mi Ciudad AC2 Microurbanismo Mientras tanto Miguel Jaenicke MiraQueLindo Miriam García Modelo Productivo Montenoso Movilidad Movilidad urbana sostenible Mujeres Multidisciplinaridad Murcia Museo de los Desplazados n´UNDO Nación Rotonda Naciones Unidas Náquera Naquerant Espais Naturalización de la ciudad Navarra NBS Negociación Urbana Nociones Comunes Noticias Nueva Agenda Urbana Nueva York nuevosENCUENTROS Observatorio Ciudad 3R Observatorio Panamericano Ocio Okupación Olot Ontinyent ONU ONU Hábitat Open Data Open Government Open House Open Source Opensource Operación Chamartín Operación Madrid nuevo norte Oporto OPPTA Orba Ordenación del territorio Ordenanzas Oviedo P2P Paco Gómez Paco González PAH Paisaje Paisaje Transversal Paisaje Urbano PAM PAM! Amara Berri Papers57 París Parque Regional ParqueJH Participación Ciudadana Participación Digital Pasear Paseos Ciudadanos Paseos-Fuencarral Patio Maravillas Patrick Geddes Patrimonio Peatón PECAM Pedagogía Urbana Pedro Bravo PEICH Periferia Perspectiva integral Perú Peter Hall Philadelphia PIAM Piensa Madrid PIER Pierobon Pinto PintoPlanCiudad PKMN Pla Litoral Placemaking Planeamiento urbanístico Planeamiento urbano Planes de Barrio Planes estratégicos PlanHUCA Planificación Estratégica planificación territorial Planificación Urbana Planificación Urbana Integral Planur-e PLAYday PNU Políticas Urbanas POLURB 2015 Porfolio post-car city PostCarCity Postmetrópolis PPS Pradogrande Precariedad Premio Presupuestos Participativos Privatizaciones Procesos de Negociación Urbana Procesos Participativos Procomún Producción Psicología Ambiental PTP-Bilbao Publicaciones Puente de Vallecas Puerta del Sol Punt Sis Quito Rafael Mata Rafael Suárez Muñiz Ramiro Aznar Ramón López de Lucio Raphaël Besson Reactivación comercial Reciclaje Recife Red de Espacios Ciudadanos Red Viaria Redes reequilibrio territorial Referencias Reflexiones Regeneración Urbana Regeneración Urbana Integral Rehabilitación Rehabitat Renovación Renovación Integral resilencia Resiliencia Revista FUA Revitalización Comercial Revolución Urbana Rio Grande Rio Grande o diamante da cidade Rivas Vaciamadrid Rueda y Vega Arquitectos Rural Rusia Salud urbana Samir Awad San Blas Sant Miquel Sao Paulo Saskia Sassen SEGIB Segovia Seguridad Semana de la Arquitectura Semana Europea de la Movildad Sentient city Seres Urbanos Sevilla SIG Sigüenza Sindicato de Arquitectos Sinergia Sostenible Sistemas de Información Geográfica Sito Veracuz Smart cities Smartcitizens SmartcitizensMX SmartZGZ Sociología Soluciones Basadas en la Naturaleza Sophie Maes Sostenibilidad Sprawl Stakeholders State of Power Stepienybarno Stop Depredación Storify Streaming Superilles Tabakalera Taller de Casquería Talleres Talleres de trabajo Tecnalia tecnología TED TEDxMadrid Teletrabajo Tenerife Terceros Lugares Terrassa Terrazas Territorio Tetuán Think Cities Think Commons TIC Todo por la Praxis Toledo Torrelodones Traficantes de Sueños Transdisciplinariedad TRANSFORMINGMADRID Tránsit Transporte Travesía Madrid Triball Triple Dimensión Trujillo Turismo Turismo Sostenible Turismofobia Turistificación TXT Espacio Público UCJC UEM UIA UIMP undoestudio Unió de Cooperadors Universidad Universidad Complutense de Madrid Universidad Europea de Madrid UPM UPV URBACT Urban Networks Urban Sustainable Development Urbana URBANBAT Urbania ZH Urbanismo Urbanismo Adaptativo Urbanismo Colaborativo Urbanismo Emergente Urbanismo feminista Urbanismo Inclusivo Urbanismo P2P Urbanismo participativo Urbanismo social Urbanismo Táctico Urbanismo Verde URJC Vacíos Urbanos Valencia Valladolid Valldaura Self Sufficient Labs VdB Vecinos VIC Vídeos Villaverde Virgen de Begoña Visiting School Terrain Lab Visualización de datos Vitoria-Gasteiz Vivienda Viviendas vacías Vulnerabilidad Wayfinding WebPT Wikimedia Wikisprint WSB14 Yakarta Zaida Muxí Zaragoza Zaragoza Open City 2020 Zaramari ZAWP Zinc Shower Zuloark ZZZINC

Este blog funciona bajo una licencia Creative Commons Reconomiento-NoComercial 3.0
Desarrollado con Blogger por Paisaje Transversal