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9:57am on Sunday, 20th June, 2021:

The Image of the City


Here are two view of Chestnut Street in Boston, Massachusetts, taken from Charles Street.

The one on the right is from Google Streetview. It's taken from the middle of the road at an angle slightly higher than the one on the left, but it's the closest I could get to a match.

When I was doing my PhD, my supervisor (Jim Doran) gave me a photocopy to read of a chapter of a book. The book in question was The Image of the City, published in 1960 by Kevin Lynch. It describes how cities are perceived by those who live and work there, in terms of five elements: paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks. It illustrates these with examples from the US cities of Boston, Jersey City and Los Angeles. The image on the left is taken from this book.

The trees have got taller and the cars newer, but it's otherwise not a lot different apart from that ghastly offfice block that dominates the skyline. It's less of a landmark than marked land. I don't know who allowed it to be built, but they don't appear to have read Lynch's book.

That said, until I bought the book a few weeks ago I hadn't read more than the single chapter I'd been given, either.

The book was published the year I was born. When I was given a chapter to read, I remember thinking how old and out of date it was — over 20 years! It was built to last, though, and only now (with people using phones to navigate rather than cognitive maps) are its tenets being challenged.

The research for which I'm best known, Player Type theory, is 25 years old. I'm surprised any students look at it these days, but it does still seem to hold up.

I've recommended Lynch's books many times over the years. It wasn't much use for my PhD (it didn't even merit a reference), but it's great for designing cities in games.

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