Down the road from my house in Amsterdam lies a small path. This path was initially created by the local residents without any plan or even thought. It was made by people like me who walked across the grass out of convenience – to take a short cut to the tram stop. The trail was narrow, slightly curved and made of mud and grass pounded flat. It quickly became a commonly used route, soggy and slippery after heavy rainfall, dusty in summer and icy in winter. 

When it was obvious that the path was there to stay, something unexpected happened. Instead of leaving this path as it was – as it had become – the local authorities hired some bricklayers to have it paved. No doubt, the intentions were good – the risk of slipping would be reduced - but I was taken by surprise. I felt somehow attached to the old path of mud and grass and did not welcome this intervention. 

But what exactly made the old path so appealing to me? In my search for an answer I soon realised that the meaning of the path went beyond the utilitarian. It was more than the shortest route from A to B. It was not the shape that caused my emotional response – the form had hardly been altered in the process of bricklaying, nor the colour - dirty brown doesn’t lift anyone’s spirits.  

No, the allure seemed to lay in the old path’s organic authenticity, and in its inherent qualities that evoked associations based on memory. The pounded flat grass reminded me of long walks in the forest. The soggy and slippery texture of the soil evoked a feeling of adventure, however small, that took me back to childhood – as a kid I once got stuck in the mud, and the only way to free myself was to leave one of my boots behind. 

The informal nature of the path contrasted with the strictly planned surrounding urban landscape. It had a character of its own. It changed with the seasons and demanded attention – I had to walk carefully to avoid slipping or getting my shoes dirty. The path made me believe that following it would lead to a pretty open field in the forest. 

The bricklayers briskly rid me of my daydreams. The new bricks tell me to behave as a grown up. A paved path is for walking on, sturdily and steadily without the risk of falling. A paved path is real. It is not there to make you believe in something that isn’t there. It is practical. But it is not only the bricks that speak to me. 

In a country that is as highly regulated as the Netherlands, residents do not make paths, authorities do. And in doing so, they not only took away my daydreams, but also my illusion of influence. The strictness of Dutch urban planning felt suffocating. Even something as trivial as a mud path could be formalised. 

And this is a pity, as the new formal path never took me any further than the tram stop.

©  2011 Eline Groeneweg | Studio Bhatt