Desire Paths


Project Vision

Desire Paths asks how things would be different if people’s histories, feelings, and connections to the land figured into planning and public decisions. This project builds an interactive map-based repository of wisdom stories for activists, planners, and public bodies.  

All of us are witnesses to our own places. Whether on foot or by bicycle, automobile, or wheelchair, whether over land or water, every path we travel is embedded with countless invisible stories of those who came before us and the meanings the same stretch of earth held for them. In the official framework of land-use planning and environmental regulation, such stories seldom count. But our stories can be more and more of a resource for planning, adaptation, protection, and restoration. What the land means to us matters, just as much as its meaning for other species, for economic life, and transportation.

Partner Profile

Desire Paths partnering organizations are:

  • Focused on conservation, preservation, community development, environmental protection, or related issues.
  • Able to shape the pilot project with us.
  • Able to link Desire Paths to at least one action initiative at their organization.
  • Able to help to raise funds through donations and grants to support our work together.

We have formed partnerships with groups active on the Southeast Louisiana coastlands; Seattle’s South Park neighborhood along the lower Duwamish River, a longtime Superfund site; and the St. Lawrence Seaway in New York state, and are pursuing funding opportunities to support our work together.

If you’re interested in partnering with us on a Desire Paths project, please contact us.


Project Components

The Desire Paths project documents, maps, and enriches our understanding of place and the importance of land and our journeys over it, incorporating four elements:


Individual stories

Workshops will be shaped by this prompt:

Tell us your story of this journey. When you move through this place, what thoughts and feelings arise? What significance does this journey have for you? What is your hope for the future of this place?

At the center of the project will be a layering of stories anchored to specific sites and journeys, telling about places rich with historical association and natural diversity, threatened by climate change or ill-advised development, attracting a storehouse of stories to nourish resilience in a time of rapid change.


Interactive mapping

Using Google Earth or another interactive mapping platform, we will plot stories on the Desire Paths website, making them one-click-accessible to visitors exploring terrain. Zooming in, each story will be anchored not just to a point in geographic space, but to the entire path the story describes. The layering of stories will resemble the layering of multicolored threads, a few strands in one location, or a wide ribbon in another, evolving a visual and narrative tapestry of meaning.


Snapshot Stories

We’ll invite users of the website to upload their own stories with a user-friendly one-image/one-story utility, specifying map coordinates to make them accessible to future users.

Our repository of stories from StoryLab pilot projects, Republic of Stories, will serve as a platform for collecting and sharing stories. 


Applying placed-based wisdom

The Desire Paths treasury of stories will aid land-use planning, community development, preserving local history, and protecting the environment. Partner organizations will be encouraged to link their educational and activist campaigns to the project, using it to build citizen testimonials to the value and significance of contested lands. Impact will also be documented by users who upload stories describing how the Desire Paths project has been useful in raising awareness and stimulating response.