Pathways, originally uploaded by _ambrown.

The snow doesn't discriminate about the built environment the way that we do. Our cities are built with such hard-and-fast rules; sidewalks are for people, streets are for cars, lawns are for the people who own them and the dogs who pee wherever they want. The actual topography of the "built environment" that lies beneath the rest of the built environment is meticulously regulated with curbs, paint, gutters, bus stops, and all sorts of little differentiated quirks designed to completely segregate cars and pedestrians, to inhabit different spaces in some modernist appeal for "order" to our streets to ensure cars can get from point A to B as fast as possible with no hindrance from other road users. In the name of "efficiency," we've denotated every square inch for its optimal use, with the clear intended goal of forcing us to see our landscape as a mosiac of private versus public space, natural versus manmade, safe versus unsafe, cars versus people.

And yet, the snow doesn't ever care. It's still early in the season, so I'm still giddy when I see it's going to snow eight inches or whatever, but even when the winter has long worn out its welcome on those awful Minnesota-in-April mornings, a big dumping of snow gives one quite the opportunity to watch the ways that we reinforce these divisions of our landscape even when you can't see the literal lines in the sand. It's 11:30 at night right now, and the municipalities are eagerly firing up their snow plows, getting ready to clear the arterials and restore the sense of order to the streets by pushing all of nature's residue out of the way so we can carry on about our lives, almost uninterrupted. But before they do, before the snow plows and the adventurous drivers attempt to recarve out their space in our Twin Cities, in the midst of the big snowfall the snow fall is uniform, evenly distributed across space. There's no curbs, no busy streets, no tangible way to tell the neighbors property line from mine. It's just....shared, untouched, open space. As a livable streets advocate, its so fascinating to watch studded tires and footprints and snowblowers reprioritize and categorize streets into streets and sidewalks into sidewalks, because in my mind the process shows just how intrinsically we understand and reconstruct our urban form to be split into separated use, even in the spaces between houses. When there's enough snow on the ground, you can walk right down the middle of the street; why not? Who's going to stop you? And you can look back and see exactly the trail you've left, and above the crunchy sounds of your boots gripping the ice you can look out and see nature attempt to remind us that all these divisions we've created for ourselves are a product of our own imagination, our own internal mandate, and that maybe, somehow, things could be different; those busy streets could maybe be used for recreation not just during the epic snowball fight but year round, that minor street might work better if it was only for bicycles, our front yards could form a linear park of shared space connecting the smoke shop to the laundromat to the corner pub.

Until then, the paths left in the snow instead just leave vestigial reminders of the way we're moving through our spaces, the ways we understand the spaces around us. And just like our dissipating breath that escapes quickly into the crisp cloudless night sky, the snow forces us to see that we're here, that we've left a mark, that our presence was noticed, that this isn't for naught, that we're alive, that tangibly the world remembers everything we do.

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