Comments: Pattern Navigation


"But anyone who turns at a Starbucks is going nowhere but in circles... Drive around any populated space, USA and you navigate not by landmark but by pattern."

Peter Merholz linked this morning to an amazing essay by Christoper Alexander from 1965: "A City is Not a Tree" (

Alexander translates blueprints of planned cities into the tree diagrams and rigid use patterns embedded in them. Strip-mall planning assumes that at each level of the heirarchy should appear the same constants: Starbucks, Gap, etc. Identical options at every decision point adds efficiency, and reduces complex options, right? Shopping patterns turn out to be shopping algorithms to be called in any context you want.

You realize the awful identicalness (and genius of scalability) of the whole when you accidentally turn at the first Starbucks rather than the second, only to be dropped into a weirdly parallel space which _almost_ processes your algorithms, but not quite. This looks just like my subdivision, but where's my house?

Despite the goal of convenience and brand consistency, navigating by Starbucks is harder than navigating by the stars.

that's a great essay, thanks to the pointer. Strikingly similar to Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome vs. root, but predating it by a decade...

Sometimes driving can feel like a Hanna-Barbara cartoon chase scene. The characters run in place, and in the background the same three stores flash by over and over and over.

We may all be destined to need GPS units and map navigator displays to know where we are and which way to turn.

I live in a town where the townies navigate by where landmarks used to be - if they were memorable enough to be there before chains wiped them out.