Compensating for our weaknesses at observing trends is important in any context, but particularly when it comes to determining public policy. The Economist offers a nice example of applying Moneyball principles to encouraging walkable urban communities. Researchers in Europe have been trying to crack the code as to why some streets become magnets for pedestrians and others don’t. One of the factors, according to experiments on people’s preferences, has to do with “desire lines” — those intuitive paths we take to walk to a destination:
Desire lines can be seen in virtually every public park as the informal dirt trails trampled by walkers as they head off path networks to their preferred destination. They also exist over longer distances within cities. Pedestrians seem to prefer routes that afford most visibility, for example. An experiment carried out by Jan Wiener and colleagues at Freiburg University in Germany gave people a choice of two paths in a virtual environment: they reliably chose the direction which had the longest line of sight.
Innovative research like this could provide practical guidance for cities and towns seeking to achieve walkability with all its benefits, such as reduced driving, revitalized downtowns, and more housing options. Let’s hope these urban leaders have the will to proceed and the resources to implement the latest and best data-based ideas (and hopefully do a better job than the A’s have been playing recently).
And if these folks aren’t inspired by baseball, there’s always Brad Pitt in the movie version.