Recently, yet again, there was a public push at Iowa State to keep students from cutting corners between sidewalks, cutting across green spaces, and so forth, to prevent what has been dubbed “cow paths.”
We’ve all seen those unsightly little dirt paths worn into the many lawns around campus, those little brown grooves through the pretty green, packed down hard as a rock by the hundreds and thousands of feet trampling over the same square footage.
This is nothing new. University administrators and even some students have been griping about cow paths for years. A search of our archives results in stories about the problem dating back many years.
So why all the fuss? Cow paths are democracy in action. They are the people’s expression of having found a better way to do something. In the case of these dirt paths deemed ugly, the students of Iowa State have found a shorter, faster way to get from A to B.
In the rest of the world, this sort of thing is called “improvement” or “advancement.”
People finding a better or faster way to do something has brought humans out of the caves, where they squatted over fires and roasted mastodon steaks on the end of a sharp stick, and instead put them into McMansions, where they passively enjoy geothermal heating and pizza delivered to their doors.
We’re not exactly equating cow paths to high science and convenient food, but the philosophy is the same. Why complain about the cow paths and threaten to put up fences and signs? Why not instead do the logical thing and simply pave over the cow path with another advancement called “concrete”?
If we had enough concrete to make that monstrosity of a building named Ross Hall, then surely we have a few yards of it somewhere that we can pour a short sidewalk with. But there is an hypocrisy here, too, and it comes from our very own university.
A quick survey of the green area in front of Curtiss Hall and on both sides of the sidewalks leading from the Memorial Union to Curtiss will reveal muddy trenches dug out by students flying around in John Deere Gators at speeds too fast for pedestrian comfort. And let’s not forget the muddy, grassless spots on Central Campus, scuffed out by the feet of hungry students awaiting their nearly free Homecoming food hand-out.
Our grass is not a simple ornamentation but rather a place for community. Who cares about dead grass? It will come back, we promise. Our green spaces were meant to be used, not fenced off and made to be observed from a distance. Let’s not complain when students use them and move through them as they see fit.