The Permeability Principle and its Application in Glasgow

June 23, 2016

Definition of Permeability

The ability of one substance to pass through another.

Taken from science it refers to, for instance, the ability of a gas to pass through rock.


In this context we are talking about the permeability of streets to human powered
movement in all its variety.

The Evolution and Growth of Cycling


 1. Quantity                                                                                                                   2. Diversity















The nature of human powered movement

or How people move through public space


The anthropology of movement:
Desire lines vs people herding
Design vs engineering

For about seven thousand years people lived in small communities and the way to get
around was to walk in a straight line from point A to point B, creating a path as you go.
Good urban design reflects this basic psychology. (See research of Mikael Colville-Andersen, Sarah Goodyear, Hans Monderman, Martin Cassini, Ben Hamilton-Ballie and
Jan Gehl). Motorisation of transport through the 20th century meant disrupting the
network of local connections in order to facilitate longer distance high-speed routes for
motorised vehicles.



Highly engineered, linear, high-speed                                                    VS.                                     Permeable organic routes

impermeable routes













The movement for permeable streets seeks to change the nature of public space from
linear to organic, reflecting the anthropology of human powered movement.

Low speed itself ensures permeability. Public squares, skating rinks and parks do not
need traffic control.

What if we designed cities for pedestrians and people on bicycles rather than engineering them for people in cars? What if a bike lane were as easy and intuitive to use as a chair, for instance, or a toothbrush, or a smartphone?


'Desire Lines' and the Fundamental Failure of Traffic Engineering

 [Sarah Goodyear, The Atlantic Cities Place Matters 5th December 2012]




The green lines have been created by people walking, the red lines are attempts by city
engineers to herd people along linear routes. See also Bicycle Culture by Design by MikaelColville-Anderson.

The way people move is part of anthropology. Anthropology is the study of humankind,
past and present, that draws and builds upon knowledge from social and biological
sciences, as well as the humanities and the natural sciences.


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Glasgow, G40 1AT
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1641 Maryhill Road
Glasgow, G20 0DZ
Tel: 0141 946 3837

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