While recently enjoying a fishing trip on the Gulf Coast, it occurred to me that I had no clue as to where we were located within the bay. As a land planner this struck me as unsettling. I felt totally at the mercy of our guide to properly direct us where we were heading, and more importantly, get us back to the lodge. Although our guide had GPS tracking on the boat, he did know the area like the back of his hand. We did not!
Since then, I have been revisiting how we used to navigate prior to Google Maps and Rideshares. Decades ago, we were accustomed to using tools such as the sun, unique trees, fence posts, and landmarks, or more plainly cardinal directions (North, South, East and West) and simple road signage to get around. Since then, we have relied on a charged battery and cell service without the hassle of planning ahead. Can we make it to the meeting across town if we were forced to leave our phone at home? Could you make it for Thanksgiving at your aunt’s house without a navigation system? What’s the latest you can leave the house and still get to your destination on time?
Moreover, what are we missing while our heads are down into our phones vs. up and taking in the sites of our surroundings? There are so many beautiful things, both natural and built, that can be observed and thought about out there every day.
As planners, it is our responsibility to provide good design that allows for logical navigation with appropriate connectivity, hierarchical understanding, and clarity for all users. This applies not only to roadways, but pedestrian-level experiences. Within our toolbox are opportunities to showcase both natural and built landmarks along the way for navigational beacons. Natural waterfalls, high points, and vistas are a sampling of features that may exist on any given single project site. There are also man-made homesteads, stagecoach crossings, bridges, windmills, stone walls, and towers to consider as examples of landmark features for reference.
Take for instance the sculptures in the Mueller greenways. These iconic sculptures are known all around Austin. I trust that we all may be surprised by what is surrounding us.