It seems Kevin’s Lynch’s seminal book, Image of the City is on the AHBE Lab team’s mind. Just last week, Evan shared a video inspired by Lynch’s study that explored how residents of three cities (Boston, Jersey City, and Los Angeles) learned about the physical layout of their environment.
I have also been thinking about Lynch’s research, specifically about the interpretation of visual information within an urban environment. Residents draw a mental map of their city by weaving their own personal experiences with the visual feedback of the environments they pass through by foot, car, bus or train. Lynch’s findings influenced urban planners’ understanding of the features that make a city’s image legible and, hence, more memorable to its residents.
A recent personal experience further reinforced my thoughts on the matter: I was traveling home on the LA Metro train when the conductor announced a delay caused by a group of protestors blocking our path. As my fellow passengers and I prepared for a long wait at the station, two young women approached a group of us and explained that they were headed back to their hostel to pack for an international flight home that evening.
“Is there another way to get to the stop nearest their hostel?” they asked anxiously.
A man turned to his mobile device for information, while another passenger told them to take a specific bus, while yet a third suggested Uber as their best bet. Luckily the protesters moved on quickly, saving the girls from further anxiety and missing their flight.
Despite the passage of time, Lynch’s cognitive mapping process still offers relevancy for urban planners today. However, where Lynch’s investigations focused on residents’ use of visual insight, today’s technological advancements and shift in lifestyle provide us with access to a wealth of resources and real-time data through our mobile devices and inventory of apps. Given our hyper-connected lives and reliance on data found literally at our fingertips (or in the case of the MindRider device noted above, placed on the head), does this reliance impact our ability to record elements of the city that matter to us individually? How vivid can our mental image of a place be when we view it through the screen of our smartphone instead of our personal sensory experience?
In the case of the young travelers, I realized I could not help them because I could not imagine where I was in my own city. Only one passenger provided them with information based on his own knowledge as a public transit user. I later drew my cursory recall of my commute to and from work, realizing this visualization is a great exercise, one that I plan to recreate as I navigate my way through this city I call home.