Type 1: Destination paths: means to ends

Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs serves to rank the importance of path goals.

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs serves to rank the importance of path goals.

Goals impel movement, and stronger goals impel stronger, faster movement. Indeed, the strength of a path’s goal is generally more important than the path’s design in determining the number of walkers it attracts, their speed,  and their preference for directness. A rutted walk to work or water will generally be taken more often than a smooth path to a pretty view.

Furthermore, highly capable walkers—think college students—will aim more directly than less capable walkers for their destinations—think, classroom, subcategory: being late for class. Which is why there are so many short-cutting social paths on campuses. (A great locale for further path studies, as a result.)

That’s also why paths ion campuses should be as direct as possible. Note well: Where indirect paths are needed, massive obstructions will be necessary to prevent students’ adopting a more direct route.

So walkers’ capabilities and motivations matter for path design.

Meanwhile, purposeful walkers pay less attention than strollers to a path’s surroundings. Environmental quality has little effect on those going to work or school because they have to make the trip regardless. Those making a discretionary stroll, on the other hand, usually demand handsome surroundings.

How many ways can a designer enhance a goal?

How many ways can a designer enhance a goal?

The Norwegian architect Thomas Thiis-Evensen offers the ultimate characterization of walking toward a goal. He argues in Archetypes in Architecture that destination paths should be thought of as appendages of their goals, components of a single thing, a goal-path.

This kind of path, he contends, “is merely the accentuation of a distant intention. Destination and path become one, which means that the path’s space and the goal stand out from the surroundings as a homogeneous space.”

So it is that we often name routes for their destinations—Portland Street, Mountain Road, the Teahouse Path.

Intermediate Goals

Even along goal-driven paths, places to sightsee, socialize, or rest along the route form intermediate destinations. These places may be nodes, widenings of the path corridor made specifically to accommodate sightseeing, socializing and the rest, or they may be distinctive features–overlooks, seats, gathering spots.

Intermediate goals increase interest in a path and help with orienting and wayfinding if they are visible from one another. Indeed, only one at a time should be visible, and, as Christopher Alexander notes, each can serve as a reason a path wends this way or that.

Alexander adds that anything that can serve a human purpose can form such a secondary goal. “All the ordinary things in the outdoors—trees, fountains, entrances, gateways, seats, statues, a swing, an outdoor room—can be the goals.”

Similarly, in back country, “outlooks, rocky outcrops, streamsides, and similar features of the landscape please the traveler and therefore should be integrated into the trail location.” the Appalachian Mountain Club recommends.

Where equally desirable destinations exist, the closer and more accessible will be preferred. For that reason, the most basic goals should be located as close as possible to the most likely starting point. On a residential property, developing outdoor sitting, entertaining space, or a vegetable garden just outside a kitchen door conforms to this guideline.

People are much more likely to walk to the same destination when it's closer. It's as though its importance had been increased.

People are much more likely to walk to the same destination when it’s closer. It’s as though its importance had been increased.

As we approach a goal, especially once we can see it, our desire to reach it intensifies. One motorist learned to pay attention to the consequences of this fact. A Philadelphia taxi driver was patiently making his way through heavy traffic from the airport into the city’s downtown until he caught sight of his destination. Despite children crossing the street to a museum and families heading for a hotel, he accelerated, ran a red light, and pulled up in front of the hotel.

He was in such a sudden hurry to reach the hotel—his vision was so tunneled on the goal—that he failed to notice two squad cars idling across the street. They responded to his omission predictably. Thus, the suggestion: Place no minor obstacles between a destination and its first sighting from any direction.

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