Travel with the Image of the City
Travel with the Image of the City

Have you wondered why you remember cities the way you do? Why is Paris called the City of Lights? Or perhaps why is New York known as the City that Never Sleeps? If not, you’re not alone! Thousands of travellers visit a new city, but are unable to recollect major highlights of the city, if not for the camera! But one American Urban Planner, Kevin Lynch, gave the world, a scientific memory path to remember a city like cartographers if not better…

Not only is the city an object which is perceived (and perhaps enjoyed) by millions of people of widely diverse class and character, but it is the product of many builders who are consonantly modifying the structure for reasons of their own… No wonder, then, that the art of shaping cities is an art quite separate from architecture or music or literature. 

Kevin Lynch; The Image of a City (1960)

Kevin Lynch believed cities to be places of temporal art; designed in the 3 dimensional phase. He propagated the idea of mentally mapping a 3D space by conceptualising urban environments. He put forth the concepts of Imageability which essentially highlights our personal view of a city.

Imageability in layman terms means the ability to create an image of a place, or person, or thing making use of purely the visual and auditory senses. However the main point of contention that arises here is: Why at all do we need to pay attention to a city’s Imageability, otherwise known as, Legibility? Well mainly because creation of image not only highlights beauty and art, but also pushes clarity and harmony of their functionality to the front line. As Lynch arguably states in his book, that if a city has poor imageability it could eventually lose out on the game of contemporary relevance, making it a ghost town eventually. Progressing further, Lynch mandated 5 basic elements to make up the image of a city, or a particular locality. They are:

Realising the Five Elements of Imageability

PATHWAYS

Memorising streets and pathways in a new city or town may actually be easier than it looks; because it is not just about the direction, but also about how we perceive that street.

In most cases, we remember streets by the direction we receive from the GPS or other directing sources. However, streets also engrave themselves in people’s mind with respect to the experience they provide. To illustrate, imagine the street right in front of your childhood home. Was yours’ lined with houses? Or was it the main road you remembered that was essentially the access road? Or maybe it was just a dirt road… Point being, when you imagined it, did you charter a course and then visualise it? Or was it the surroundings that shaped your image?

Lynch believed streets were the main artery of a city, having potential power in improving the life of residents and keep tourists coming back. So the next time you travel, try noticing the buildings that line the streets. Or maybe notice the signages. Every street has a story to tell. This will tell you that the beauty exists in taking the path well travelled but seldom not understood.

NODES

Comprising of something more than intersections, this element is often seen as the heart of any city’s activity. Most of the times, it is the node that makes a city famous rather than its’ monuments.

Being something more than intersections, nodes often double up as the entertainment points of a city drawing both local people and tourists. They could be intersections like the Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Japan; or could be plazas like the Lincoln Centre, New York,USA. Nevertheless, they play an important role in uplifting public lifestyle. It encourages public interaction which further promotes social cohesiveness. As an element of imageability, nodes are useful pointers in wayfinding. So when you travel, try noticing the intersections or plazas and how they influence the surrounding area.

LANDMARKS

Main attraction points in a city, these are focal points of tourist attraction. It is not necessary however, for a landmark to be a historical monument. It could be the most famous burger place or even a garden visited by all!

When it comes to landmarks, it’s all about perception. What do you perceive as famous? If the neighbourhood Starbucks can tick that, then voila, a landmark has been created! An interesting feature about them is that, it keeps changing with time. Much like the river banks, landmarks can change from the famous radio tower to a skyscraper to even a restaurant. Landmarks, play an important role in imageability, in the sense that, new development roams near these spots. So next time, when visiting a new town, check the vibe of the landmarked spot! You’ll definitely be sure to notice oddities that were previously hidden.

EDGES

Dividing a city or town in two or more sections, these are useful administrative delineators. Apart from their geographic function, edges can also be stretches of relaxation spots lining the city and providing respite to the weary feet.

Edges can be developed as riverfronts, marine drives or even as extended parks. The presence of an edge, hugely determines the flow of growth of the city in terms of economy as well as physical boundary. Edges can be incorporated sustainably, by lining it with trees or even creating inter-connected parks. On your next trip, make sure to visit these areas as they can be considered as hidden gems in the heart of the city.

DISTRICTS

Varying in size from neighbourhoods to wards, these homogenous localities give the town the character it needs. They form the essential urban fabric that defines cities.

Districts are the largest of all the elements that develop imageability. They are however, the most visible features that show certain character. It is the closest legible visualisation that form an image in our minds. For example, the childhood neighbourhood. Districts pave the path to mental mapping. It is what we must look for to understand where we live and how we live.

So now you know the essential techniques to remember a city you’ve travelled or will travel. Make sure you enjoy the most of it too! This is how planners would like to remember their cities. Wonderful method, don’t you think?

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