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Study Measures 150 Miles of Informal Footpaths in Detroit, Explores Their Larger Importance

A new study by researchers at Illinois State University and the University of Michigan measured the informal footpaths—also known as "desire lines"—of Detroit.
July 2, 2019, 6am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Alec Foster and Joshua P. Newell have published a study for the Landscape and Urban Planning journal that measures the informal footpaths known as desire lines crisscross the city of Detroit.

According to the abstract for the study, Detroit has more than 5,680 of these footpaths, totaling more than 150 miles, and a complete knowledge of those desire lines can be a value to transportation planners, urban theorists, and community activists.

"Transportation planners may value desire lines for their efficiency, reducing travel time and distance. Urban theorists and community activists, however, view desire lines as a form of resistance and reclamation of space for a public poorly served by urban institutions," according to abstract.

The idea proposed by this study, however, is that these two benefits can co-exist. "Desire lines are creative attempts to expand urban possibilities, enhance efficiency, and reaffirm agency in increasingly regulated cities."

Using spatiotemporal analysis, the study also finds that desire lines are disappearing in Detroit, correlating with "changes in land ownership, management practices, and population dynamics."

"The loss of desire lines exposes the limits of informal practices and indicates the need for connections to broader relationships of power and governance," according to the abstract.

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Published on Monday, July 1, 2019 in Landscape And Urban Planning
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