top of page

The Full Story

A project for developed The Big Draw, Paths of Desire was an interactive public experience in which participants were provided with the tools to trace their movements as they explored Lower Manhattan and the past and present geography of the island as it was shaped by the influence of water.

Presented by The Drawing Center & River to River Festival




In Lower Manhattan there exists a unique intersection of urban infrastructure and paths of desire. Much of our existing infrastructure was determined by paths of desire or by the geography of the island before development.-Broadway was originally a major native American trail which connected settlements with the water, Maiden Lane a water inlet where the "maidens" washed the laundry, marshes and ponds dotted the lower Manhattan topography, and West Street follows the original shoreline. Now we find that our paths through the city are strictly dictated by the urban infrastructure and impediments and we are constrained in creating new paths of desire.


How does the historical knowledge and modern infrastructure affect our contemporary yearning to create new paths of desire? This project, sought to reconnect participants to the history and geography of the island, inspire wandering and visibly track our paths as they criss-cross Lower Manhattan. The paths we walk are like tracings of our lives: some paths are etched over and over - the commute, a walk to the store. Occasionally though, we trace a new route, allowing time or space to wander and explore, compelled by something new - a search for a destination, a moment of curiosity. Along any of these paths we have the potential to intersect with others, criss-crossing on street corners, doorways, common spaces. Sometimes these paths converge to follow a common desire. By actually marking the trail of the paths of one group of people on one particular day, we find these crossings, convergence and even lonely wanderings traced and recorded for a moment in time for all to discover and explore.

Another goal of the project is to re-connect contemporary New Yorkers with their relationship to the water around the island of Manhattan. Historically New York City developed and grew precisely because of its location - surrounded by water - and its proximity to the water. Participants are asked to come to the water's edge, take and use some of the water on their explorations. They will be following the historic waterways that etched the island, and trails that were undoubtedly used to carry water to settlements farther inland. 

bottom of page