Monday, October 24, 2011


I must get asked for directions more than the average bear. It certainly is because I probably log more walking miles than just about any other person in this city. Maybe not. But likely within the types of areas that intersect my life and those of tourists or the general public at-large that has no idea where they are and where they're going. And to the luck of the asker, the askee, moi, probably knows whatever immediate vicinity within, say, a half-mile radius of wherever the question might be posed. In fact, earlier today, I was asked twice for directions. Once for the DMA and another time for a place, "any place," suitable for lunch.

So while the answer of why I'm always asked for directions is pretty simple (and I've been asked in the native tongue for directions throughout Spain and Italy multiple times as well in various cities), the answer of why so many questions are being asked for directions is a bit more complex. As I paranthetically mentioned, visitors are always asking for directions in any/every city. But at the same time, most of those other cities have a greater proportion of people, both askers and askees, meaning less of a chance that it always seems to be me getting asked.

And, I must add, that I never mind and have always been happy to help because I empathize, if not sympathize, with the asker. I know where I'm going, if only through experience because the city's road network is largely incomprehensible. Dead ends, one-ways, highway on- and off-ramps, mergers, etc. all in the name of regional movement creates its own barrier to comprehension and wayfinding despite the stated goal of movement. There is no order, hierarchy, or clarity to a system that is fundamentally sociofugal rather than sociopetal. It is centerless. This means that it fails as a system. Any network must have a order of hubs. These comprise the central nervous system, so to speak. And this must be given structure by the "bones" of transportation.

It is this hierarchy that provides both visitors and even the real estate market some clarity, some measure of understanding and order that invites them into a more participatory system. A decentralized system has no order, it cannot be comprehended. And this is partially why every single day I also see cars pulling down the wrong way on one-way roads or down the train-only DART line. People assume there is more logic than actually exists within a fundamentally broken system.

There is also the issue of road names and order. In New York and many other cities there is an order to the numbering/nomenclature of the roads that provides an increasing level of clarity. There is also the Japanese tradition of addressing based on blocks and nesting individualized addresses within those blocks, almost like a matryoshka doll. It is quite effective, because it is precisely in line with the orderly "nesting" of increasingly private space that exists within an emergent network, a fractal.

Also, a brief thought on one-way roads because people often cite other cities (NYC, in particular) that has one-way roads. The key point is that in NY, the density is so great and the walkability so, um, possible, that the road is still effectively two-way, as pedestrians can still move in either direction. Also, on many of the streets, there are subways below moving in both directions, so the system is infinitely more complex than what we're dealing with in Dallas. Lastly, their roads are also full, thus requiring the increased street by street capacity of one-ways, although whether that really increases capacity is highly, HIGHLY, debatable. The bigger issue is, once again, we're not NYC, and one-ways are inappropriate here.