The City Image and Its Elements

Lynch, Kevin 1970[1960]. The Image of the City. Cambridge; London: The MIT Press.

As in any intellectual work, the content derives from many sources, difficult to trace. (Lynch 1970[1960]: v)
Uh, yeah. This is why I keep extensive notes on my readings. My intellectual work will ultimately derive its content from many sources that ideally will be relatively easy to trace.
Looking at cities can give a special pleasure, however commonplace the sight may be. Like a piece of architecture, the city is a construction in space, but one of vast scale, a thing perceived only in the course of long spans of time. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 1)
Linn on ruumiline konstruktsioon. I've already gathered similar statements but this one is one of the briefest.
At every instant, there is more than the eye can see, moret han the ear can hear, a setting or a view waiting to be explored. Nothing is experienced by itself, but always in relation to its surroundings, the sequences of events leading up to it, the memory of past experiences. Washington Street set in a farmer's field might look like the shopping street in the heart of Boston, and yet it would seem utterly different. Every citizen has had long associations with some part of his city, and his image is soaked in memories and meanings. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 1)
This is another good addition to the discussion of Jakobson's contextual function. Memory of past experiences belongs to the autofunctional or autosemantic dimension.
Moving elements in a city, and in particular the people and their activities, are as important as the stationary physical parts. We are not simply observers of this spectacle, but are ourselves a part of it, on the stage with the other participants. Most often, our perception of the city is not sustained, but rather partial, fragmentary, mixed with other concerns. Nearly every sense is in operation, and the image is the composite of them all. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 2)
I can get on board with this. A city would not be a city without masses of people and their transportation.
Although clarity or legibility is by no means the only important property of a beautiful city, it is of special importance when considering environments at the urban scale of size, time, and complexity. To understand this, we must consider not just the city as a thing in itself, but the city being perceived by its inhabitants. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 3)
This is the second instance of a Kantian undertone. The complexity of the city and the perception by its inhabitants both, I think, can be accounted for by a "communication network" approach.
In the process of way-finding, the stategic link is the environmental image, the generalized mental picture of the exterior physical world that is held by an individual. This image is the product both of immediate sensation and of the memory of past experience, and it is used to interpret information and to guide action. The need to recognize and pattern our surroundings is so crucial, and has such long roots in the past, that this image has wide practical and emotional importance to the individual. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 4)
Thus the environmental image is also related to how one interprets information received from the city environment and guides actions to be undertaken in it.
A vivid and integrated physical setting, capable of producing a sharp image, plays a social role as well. It can furnish the raw material for the symbols and collective memories of group communication. A striking landscape is the skeleton upon which many primitive races erect their socially important myths. Common memories of the "home town" were often the first and easiest point of contact between lonely soldiers during the war. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 4)
E.g. the "Taaramägi" myth of Toomemägi in Tartu.
In our own world, we might say that almost everyone can, if attentive, learn to navigate in Jersey City, but only at the cost of some effort and uncertainty. Moreover, the positive values of legible surroundings are missing: the emotional satisfaction, the framework for communication or conceptual organization, the new depths that it may bring to everyday experience. These are pleasures we lack, even if our present city environment is not so disordered as to impose an intolerable strain on those who are familiar with it. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 5)
If you view the city as a highly complex communication system then you indeed have to account for the conceptual organization of it. It's "legibility" is this sense becomes synonymous with intelligibility.
A landscape whose every rock tells a story may make difficult the creation of fresh stories. Although this may not seem to be a critical issue in our present urban chaos, yet it indicates that what we seek is not a final but an open-ended order, capable of continuous further development. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 6)
I think a communication system approach can facilitate this. Here the semiosic "meaning begets meaning" idea should be developed further. And what exactly does Lynch mean by "stories" here?
There may be little in the real object that is ordered or remarkable, and yet its mental picture has gained identity and organization through long familiarity. One man may find objects easily on what seems to anyone else to be a totally disordered work table. Alternatively, an object seen for the first time may be identified and related not because it is individually familiar but because it conforms to a stereotype already constructed by the observer. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 6)
It looks like Lynch concluded Michel Foucault's The Order of Things into a single sentence.
Each individual creates and bears his own image, but there seems to be substantial agreement among members of the same group. It is these group images, exhibiting consensus among significant numbers, that interest city planners who aspire to model an environment that will be used by many people. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 7)
The sociological aspect: a group has a shared or common image.
An environmental image may be analyzed into three components: identity, structure, and meaning. It is useful to abstract these for analysis, if it is remembered that in reality they always appear together. A workable image requires first the identification of an object, which implies its distinction from other things, its recognition as a separate entity. This is called identity, not in the sense of equality with something else, but with the meaning of individuality or oneness. Second, the image must include the spatial or pattern relation of the object to the observer and to other objects. Finally, this object must have some meaning for the observer, whether practical or emotional. Meaning is also a relation, but quite a different one from spatial or pattern relation. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 8)
Thus I can identify the riverside pedestrian path that has a spatial relation in terms of connecting my current residence with the town center and carries an emotional meaning in the sense that I prefer to traverse this path when I'm not in a hurry and feel like taking a stroll.
Brown remarks that a maze through which subjects were asked to move blindfolded seemed to them at first to be one unbroken problem. On repetition, parts of the pattern, particularly the beginning and end, became familiar and assumed the character of localities. Finally, when they could tread the maze without error, the whole system seemed to have become one locality. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 11)
This seems eerily familiar, as if it could apply to most anything. When you set out on something new then the whole does seem enigmatic but soon enough the contours may become familiar and through craft and persistence the whole may become systematic. Orienting the maze could here be a metaphor for mastering any activity.
Each individual picture is unique, with some content that is rarely or never communicated, yet it approximates the public image, which, in different environments, is more or less compelling, more or less embracing. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 46)
This belongs to the discourse on personal or private signs.
This analysis limits itself to the effects of physical, perceptible objects. There are other influences on imageability, such as the social meaning of an area, its function, its history, or even its name. These will be clossed over, since the objective here is to uncover the role of form itself. It is taken for granted that in actual design form should be used to reinforce meaning, and not to negate it. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 46)
In Lotman's distinction of the two poles of the semiotics of city, one dealing with space and the other with the name of the city, Lynch's approach deals with the former while Lotman himself deals with the latter.
1. Paths. Paths are the channels along which the observer customarily, occasionally, or potentially moves. The may be streets, walkways, transit lines, canals, railroads. For many people, these are the predominant elements in their image. People observe the city while moving through it, and along these paths the other environmental elements are arranged and related. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 47)
Paths are of course intimately related to human movement and transportation. Paths form where people habitually move. There's also a notable chasm between the official, paved, pedestrian roads and the stamped-ground paths or shortcuts that show where people actually move. I've found this to be an interesting thing to notice: ideally, all such footpaths would be paved and made "official" but some are not, for one reason or another, and remain uncared for for a long time. Sometimes it even seems that these different paths come with their own prescribed form of movement: you take the paved official path when you've got time to stroll or when you're just a tourist discovering a place for the first and perhaps the only time; but when you live and the area and hurry to an appointment, the unofficial pathways are preferable because they are usually shortcuts.
2. Edges. Edges are the linear elements not used to considered as paths by the observer. They are the boundaries between two phases, linear breaks in continuity: shores, railroad cuts, edges of development, walls. They are lateral references rather than coordinate axes. Such edges may be barriers, more or less penetrable, which close one region off from another; or they may be seams, lines along which two regions are related and joined together. These edge elements, although probably not as dominant as paths, are for many people important organizing features, particularly in the role of holding together generalized areas, as in the outline of a city by water or wall. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 47)
The difference between a path and an edge becomes very apparent when a pedestrian path diverges from some edge, like the riverbank, building facades, car roads, etc. Though in some cases, like the four-square parks in Tartu, the "outer" paths act as edges. If a building were placed across the Tartu Kaubamaja, the paths within that area would disappear and the paths that act like edges woud take on more walkers.
5. Districts. Districts are The medium-to-large sections of the city, conceived of as having two-dimensional extent, which the observer mentally enters "inside of," and which are recognizable as having some common, identifying character. Always identifiable from the inside, they are also used for exterior reference if visible from the outside. Most people structure their city to some extent in this way, with individual differences as to whether paths or districts are the dominant elements. It seems to depend not only upon the individual but also upon the given city. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 47)
[ringkond, piirkond, rajoon] The difference seems to be whether you ascribe to the "going-through" paradigm of paths and edges, or "being-inside" paradigm of locating yourself within some distinct area.
4. Nodes. Nodes are points, the strategic spots in a city into which an observer can enter, and which are the intensive foci to and from which he is traveling. They may be primarily junctions, places of a break in transportation, a crossing or convergence of paths, moments of shift from one structure to another. Or the nodes may be simply concentrations, which gain their importance from being the condensation of some use or physical character, as a street-corner hangout or an enclosed square. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 47)
Nodes seem to be not only path-crossings, but "strategic spots" with some "use". In Tartu these would most likely be the bus terminal, Tasku, Kaubamaja, Kaubamaja playground, Küüni street node near the Barclay park, etc. In a word, places where people seem to congregate for some "use" reason.
Some of these concerntration nodes are the focus and epitome of a district, over which their influence radiates and of which they stand as a symbol. They may be called cores. Many nodes, of course, partake of the nature of both junctions and concentrations. The concept of a node is related to the concept of paths since junctions are typically the convergence of paths, events on the journey. It is similarly related to the concept of district, since cores are typically the intensive foci of districts, their polarizing center. In any event, some nodal points are to be found in almost every image, and in certain cases they may be the dominant feature. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 48)
This is indeed observable: every district has its own "center" (core) where paths lead. I've observed this in Tartu without acknowledging these terms.
5. Landmarks. Landmarks are another type of point-reference, but in this case the observer does not enter within them, they are external. They are usually a rather simply defined physical object: building, sign, store, or mountain. Their use involves the singling out of one element from a host of possibilities. Some landmarks are distant ones, typically seen from many nagles and distances, over the tops of smaller elements, and used as radial references. They may be within thec ity or at such a distance that for all practical purposes they symbolize a constant direction. Such are isolated towers, golden domes, great hills. Even a mobile point, like the sun, whose motion is sufficiently slow and regular, may be employed. Other landmarks are primarily local, being visible only in restricted localities and from certain approaches. These are the innumerable signs, store fronts, trees, doorknobs, and other urban detail, which fill in the image of most observers. They are frequently used clues of identity and even of structure, and seem to be increasingly relied upon as a journey becomes more and more familiar. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 48)
Here it seems important that most anything can serve as a landmark (signs, store fronts, trees, doorknobs, etc.) but the landmark sui generis should be singled out as a dominant element. Here one could probably differentiate public and private landmarks. That specific doorknob may be very relevant to me personally, but when coordinating action (a date, for example) with another, I have to refer to a more widely known landmark.
People with least knowledge of Boston tended to think of the city in terms of topography, large regions, generalized characteristics, and broad directional relationships. Subjects who knew the city better had usually mastered part of the path structure; these people thougdht more in terms of specific paths and their interrelationships. A tendency also appeared for the people who knew the city best of all to rely more upon small landmarks and less upon either regions or paths. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 49)
A few weeks ago I had to go to an event located in the old town of Tallinn, and got lost in the old town maze. I knew the "broad direction" in which I had to go but ended up in a narrow street that ended abruptly. I asked a passerby for directions and was first directed in terms of paths (go left, then right, etc.) and closer to my destination, in terms of local establishments (the name of some pub). It was a weird feeling, looking for a specific pub in a long line of establishments. Before embarking on my travels I looked at the satellite image of old town and interpreted a small green are as a fountain. In fact it was just a green area with a monument right across the pub I was directed to. In short, the local who knew the city better relied on establishments, while I relied on broad directional relationships and the satellite image.
Other qualities that gave importance to single paths were the visual exposure of the path itself or the visual exposure from the path of other parts of the city. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 51)
Well, an invisible path wouldn't be a path at all. The visual exposure aspect is probably the reason why the most notable paths, like in my case the riverside pedestrian roadway, are ones that run a long course, is spatially open or exposed, and enables the stroller to glance at monumental buildings or views.
The frequent reduction of the South End to a geometrical system was typical of the constant tendency of the subjects to impose regularity on their surroundings. Unless obvious evidence refuted it, they tried to organize paths into geometrical networks, disregarding curves and non-perpendicular intersections. The lower area of Jersey City was frequently drawn as a grid, even though it is one only in part. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 61)
I found only recently while mentally strolling around my hometown while looking at Regio's online map, that the Tartu street where I lived and which I always thought to be straight despite a noticeable curve, does indeed have a veritable curve in it. This discovery was astonishing.
Sounds and smells sometimes reinforced visual landmarks, although they did not seem to constitute landmarks by themselves. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 83)
Sounds and smells are too transient. One cannot easily presume that a given sound or smell will last at a specific place; there may be nothing to return to. Visual landmarks have a more lasting effect.
The image itself was not a precise, miniaturized model of reality, reduced in scale and consistently abstracted. As a purposive simplification, it was made by reducing, eliminating, or even adding elements to reality, by fusion and distortion, by relating and structuring the parts. It was sufficient, perhaps better, for its purpose if rearranged, distorted, "illogical." It resembled that famous cartoon of the New Yorker's view of the United States. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 87)
This is essentially a list of some semiotic manipulations that humans are capable of. It took some time to hunt down the March 29, 1976, cover of the New Yorker magazine.
However distorted, there was a strong element of topological invariance with respect to reality. It was as if the map were drawn on an infinitely flexible rubber sheet; directions were twisted, distances stretched or compressed, large forms so changed from their accurate scale projection as to be at first unrecognizable. But the sequence was usually correct, the map was rarely torn and sewn back together in another order. This continuity is necessary if the image is to be of any value. (Lynch 1970[1960]: 87)
I believe that similar semiotic manipulations appear elsewhere as well. I'm especially interested if similar operations occur in describing bodily behaviour (what I call concourse).


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