At one time massive oak trees like this one captured growing from Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena, circa 1890 held prominent presence. Check out The Oak Trees of Southern California: A Brief History over at LOST LA. Courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

How long ago did trees of significant size cease to be identified and used as wayfinding elements? I still harbor romanticized memories of large specimen trees holding court in the center of small towns, or trees of substantial size guarding the entry of a home’s long dirt driveway back in the “olden days.” Besides the scarcity of space for trees of significant size and age in most urban centers today, I have to wonder how many people could actually even identify a Jacaranda or Coral tree, especially when it was not flowering?

This very question arose last week while attending, “Movement Matters: Wayfinding: what, how, where and why?”, a seminar sponsored by Steer Davie Gleave. Seminar presenters, Evan Weinberg, Policy and Advocacy Manager, Toronto Financial District BIA and James Brown, Principal Consultant, Steer Davies Gleave led what turned out to be an interesting discussion about the importance of wayfinding elements in our cities – from economic benefits, to the physical interaction with one’s city.

I especially enjoyed the Legible London project that they described, a project envisioned with the goal to give people the “confidence to get lost.” The very legible wayfinding signs stationed right outside all the Tube Station stops in London proved extremely helpful during a recent trip, a firsthand account of the benefits of wayfinding elements in a city.

The other point I was glad to hear during the seminar was that Weinberg and Gleave still recommended producing an actual map of the area. Perhaps one that was extruded, or be presented on a dynamic digital board, but nevertheless advocate the production of an actual map of an area. They said many clients immediately ask for an app as a wayfinding tool; but these consultants still abide by the conviction, a “map before the app.”

On a related note, I still distinctly remember preparing for my first – and sadly only – visit to Venice, Italy. Travel advice I read soothed concerns about getting lost as a visitor, since it was a small island; my fears were allayed by promises that any small alley would eventually reveal signs to guide visitors back to open identifiable sections of the city. Venice proved a great locale to safely give into this “confidence to get lost” – to go without a map, wander, and simply explore.

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