Why Sneckdowns Captured Our Attention

America’s 2013-14 winter was the winter of sneckdowns.

Yes, a clunky word. By itself, the portmanteau of snow and neckdown likely makes most communications people cringe.

The term “neckdown” is bad enough; it’s hard to imagine the public knows the wonky engineering term or has a positive value connected to it. Stephanie Seskin of the National Complete Streets Coalition prefers “curb extenders.” But I digress.

Why did sneckdowns take over the internet, and subsequently national, and international, media?

In short, the power of images.

Talking about desire lines, or conceptually drawing them, seems like a theoretical, academic exercise. Showing desire lines – with sneckdowns or pictures of well-worn paths across fields – has a natural advantage.

The case is made for itself, instead of having to build up a case through complex arguments. The picture says: this is simply what humans do, and which road space is truly most important for people who walk and those who drive.

The term sneckdown also captured the curiosity of transportation wonks, who said, “Hey! That’s new, something I don’t know about, and therefore interesting.”

Take-away lessons

The sneckdown story works because it:

  • Shows instead of telling
  • Uses immediately understandable images that tell a clear story
  • Engages the public using something they are already interested in (big snow falls)

The sneckdown story built momentum by:

  • Engaging the public in taking and sharing images
  • Using a new word and short hash-tag to prompt curiosity and sharing

Further reading

The History of the Term and Streetsfilms Sneckdown video from 2011
BBC Sneckdowns story
The Economist story
The Atlantic Cities story


This entry was posted in Images, Media, Walking, Words. Bookmark the permalink.

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