Sunday 11 March 2012

Kevin Lynch, The Image of the city

By Kevin Andrew Lynch, published in 1960
All quotations: Lynch 1960

The book itself shows a very useful way to study and analyze Boston, Los Angeles and Jersey City  and their dynamics. There is an anthropomorphism of the point of view. Whereas in older trends we can find the urban space analysis from the building, the square, the textures and the space itself, in “The Image of The City” the analysis is from the human perception of the it.
“We’re 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 al” (2)
Kevin Lynch understood the city as an ever changing phenomenon without a final result but a continuous succession of phases.
He suggested a method, a tool to study a city, it is neither a strict list of rules nor a rigid conclusion
“This book (…) will try to show how this concept might be used today in rebuilding our cities. (…) this study is a preliminary exploration, a first word not a last word, and attempt to capture ideas and to suggest how they might be developed and tested. Its tone will be speculative and perhaps a little irresponsible”(3)

He creates a conceptual frame in which he develops the analysis of Boston, Los Angeles and Jersey City. Thus, some general reflections emerge. Only after this study Lynch finish the method to study the cities.
Legibility; building the image; structure and identity; imageability are the features of the first Chapter which define the “conceptual frame” to start the analysis of a city.

Visual quality or apparent clarity of the cityscape: “its parts can be recognized and can be organized into a coherent pattern. (2, 3)
“To understand this, we must consider not just the city as a thing in itself, but the city being perceived by its inhabitants” (3)
“We are supported by the presence of others and by special way-finding devices: maps, streets numbers, route signs, bus placards” (4)
“A good environmental image gives it possessor an important sense of emotional security. He can establish an harmonious relationship between himself and the outside world” (4)
“The city is in itself a powerful symbol of a complex society” (5)

“(…) the image of a given reality may vary significantly between different observers” (6)
“Each individual creates and bears his own image, but there seems to be substantial agreement among members of a group. It is this group of images, exhibiting consensus among significant numbers that interest city planners who aspire to model an environment that will be used by many people” (7)

3 components of analysis:
1- Identity
2- Structure
3- Meaning
- “A workable image requires first the identification of an object, which implies its distinction from other things”
- “The image must include the spatial or pattern relation of the object to the observer and to other objects”
- “The object must have some meaning for the observer”
“If it is our purpose to build cities which will also be adaptable to future purposes –we may even be wise to concentrate on the physical clarity of the image and to allow meaning to develop without our direct guidance” (2)

“(…) quality in a physical object which gives it a high probability of evoking a strong image in any given observer (…) it also is called legibility, or perhaps visibility” (9)

THREE CITIES (Boston-Jersey City-Los Angeles)

“As in any small pilot study, the purpose was to develop ideas and methods, rather than to prove facts in a final and determinate way” (14)

Kevin Lynch uses the analysis of Boston, Jersey City and Los Angeles to develop his theory and introduce some important concepts. The cities previously mentioned are radically different from each other. However, in those differences Lynch uncovers common elements of structuring. In these analyses Lynch links macro-medium and human scale generating a direct relationship to the consequences of taking action in any urban elements. Furthermore, it shows how they affect the human perception and the way of living within the city.

Top: Boston
Middle: Jersey City
Bottom: L.A.

Through the referred analysis, Lynch establishes 5 common elements in which these three cities are commonly structured. In the analysis, orientation, perception and the “city experience” are studied rather than other urban pathologies (like density, pollution or sustainability) which are the main issues today.
“There seems to be a public image of any given city which is the overlap of many individual images. (…) Each individual picture is unique, (…) yet it approximates the public image (…)” (46)

The 5 elements:

-Channels along which the observers move.
- People observe the city while moving through it.
-Other environmental elements are arranged and related.

-Linear elements, not used or considered paths by the observer.
 -Boundaries between 2 phases.
-Barriers more or less penetrable relate and join or separate 2 regions.
-Not as dominant as paths.

-Medium-to-large sections of the city.
-Two dimensional extents (the observer is mentally “inside-of”).
-Common identifying character (within a district).
-Identifiable from inside. Used for exterior reference if visible from outside
-With path, districts are the dominant element for people to structure their cities

-Strategic spots, points of reference
-An observer can enter/ pass through it
-Could be simply concentrations
-Condensation of some use or physical character
-District/node:  epitome of a district/ core/ symbol
-Path/Nodes: convergence of paths/events on the journey
-Are to be found in almost every city image/ dominant feature

-Point of reference
-Observer does not enter within them
-Are external
-Usually a physical object
-Their use involves the singling out of 1 element from other
-Could be distant (seen from many angles and distances)

Districts are structured with nodes, defined by edges, penetrated by paths, and sprinkled with landmarks-Elements regularly Overlap and pierce one another

Elements interrelation
“These elements are the raw material of the environmental image at the city scale. They must be patterned together to provide a satisfying form” (83)
A great Landmark may dwarf and throw out of scale a small region at its base” (84)
“Districts in particular, which tend to be of larger size than the other elements, contain within themselves (…), are thus related to, various paths, nodes, and landmarks. These other elements not only structure the region internally, they also intensify the identity of the whole by enriching and deepening its character” (84)
“Paths, which are dominant in many individual images, and which may be a principal resource in organization at the metropolitan scale, have intimate interrelations with other element types(…). The paths are given identity and tempo not only by their own form, or by the nodal junctions, but by the regions they pass through, the edges they move along, and the landmarks distributed along their lengt” (84)
The passages above give a clear overview about Lynch´s method in action. They are a conclusion and a proposal at the same time. One of the most appealing characteristic of this method is its flexibility despite the fact that it uses very accurate and identifiable city elements. The same can be said about the element´s relations.
After introducing the 5 elements, Lynch developed some examples of how the image changes not only from one observer to another but also in one observer´s circuit.

“A city is a multi-porpouse, shifting organization, a tent form many functions, raised by many hands and with relative speed. Complete specialization, final meshing noncommittal, plastic to the purposes and perceptions of its citizens” (91)
“If the environment is visibly organized and sharply identified, then the citizen can inform it with his own meaning and connections. Then will become true place, remarkable and unmistakable” (92)
After showing us the five elements and how they interact, Lynch added the “meaning” to this net of interrelated concepts. This addition changes everything since the observer´s perception is the core of the analysis or the proposal. Thus, he illustrated the elements to manage the public image it can uncover (in the analysis) or created (in the proposal).

- there is a public image of any given city which is the overlap of many individual images-

For Kevin Lynch, when a city has a clear public image which materializes through the elements and their meanings, it is a successful city. Moreover, those meanings are built only by the inhabitants of that specific city.
He also affirms that this city´s image is very important for its development and functionality as long as it is positive. Therefore, a visitor or a tourist can understand from the beginning how to “use” that city.
In that line, designing paths (for example) is explained by using the developed concept to create a meaningful city image. Direction, motion, rhythm are common features in this process.
The aim of the process is to reach form quality. He defined ten features to reach it:

1.       SINGULARITY: Figure-background clarity. The contrast may be to the immediate visible surroundings
2.       FORM SIMPLICITY: Clarity and simplicity of visible form in the geometrical sense. Forms of this nature are much more easily incorporated in the image. When an element is not simultaneously visible as a whole (…) yet be quite understandable
3.       CONTINUITY: Continuance of edge surface, nearness of parts, repetitions of rhythmic intervals, etc. These are the qualities that facilitate the perception of a complex physical reality as one or as interrelated.
4.       DOMINANCE: Dominance of 1 part over others by means of size, intensity, or interest, resulting in the reading of the whole as a principal feature with an associated cluster.
5.       CLARITY OF JOINT: Clear relation and interconnection. These joints are the strategic moments of structure and should be highly perceptible.
6.       DIRECTIONAL DIFFERENTIATION: These qualities are heavily used in structuring on the larger scale
7.       VISUAL SCOPE: Facilitate the grasping of a vast and complex whole by increasing, as it were, the efficiency of vision
8.       MOTION AWARNESS: make sensible the observer, both visual and kinesthetic sences. These qualities reinforce and develop what an observer can do to interpret direction or distance.
9.       TIME SERIES: Sensed over time, where 1 element is knitted on the 2 before and behind it. Series that are truly structured in time and this melodic in nature.
10.   NAMES AND MEANINGS:  non-physical characteristics which may enhance the imageability of an element. They strongly reinforce such suggestions toward identity or structure as may be latent in the physical form itself. (105, 106)

The perception is, once again, the main aim of the proposal. Whereas straight roads, octagonal grids, roof gardens, blocks or other specific features, were common in other urban proposals, Lynch proponed a much more anthropomorphic and perceptual way of approaching and designing the city. He understands the urban space as a platform for thesubstantial variation in the way different people organize their city”

A clear city image will allow perceiving it as a whole.

Below this point: Personal opinion and reflection of the owner of this Blog.

Is a preliminary exploration, a first word not a last word, an attempt to capture ideas and suggest how they might be developed and tested. Its tone will be speculative and perhaps a little irresponsible. (Lynch, 1960)

CONTEXT OF THIS BOOK : 1960 and surroundings:

Kevin Lynch lived in the United States of America and at the time he wrote The Image of The City he was a he was an university professor. He was in constant contact with students, university life and contemporary trends. This probably suggests that he had some awareness of what was happening at that time. He was not an isolated “genius” studying the city from his panoptic. 

The 60`s were a decade in which the world seemed to change its approach from a rational to an anthropomorphic one. The perception of what was happening was more important than the particular fact itself. The meaning of whatever was happening became important. 

The TV appearance and the world famous debate between Nixon and Kennedy (Whose listen by radio liked Nixon, whereas whose watched on TV liked Kennedy).

In addition, at that time, USA was in a deep social crisis. The Vietnam War, sexual revolution and drug trips (use and abuse).  
  The importance of the colors, the psychedelia (derived from the Greek words psihi - psyche, "soul") and dilosi ( "manifest"), translating to "soul-manifesting"- Wikipedia definition).

Social landmarks like Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan among others (most of them with a tragic end) were representative of that time. Through their lyrics we can learn much of the feeling of that time. 

Every “expression” seemed to be a mental exploration rather than a clear  explanation of the reality or the truth of what was really happening. The importance of the observer and its point of view were more important rather than the “object” itself. In this line the “meaning” became the center. 
Andy Warhol* is a remarkable example of this. He created Pop Art by giving a meaning to any ordinary and popular object. That meaning was usually far from the original meaning of the object.    
*You can find some extra material about Warhol further on in this blog

Hunter Stockton Thompson, a remarkable journalist at that time (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas),  gives to us a clear picture of the feeling at that time in ”The wave speech”**. He created the Gonzo Journalism which clearly reflected the essence of the sixties:
**You can find "The Wave Speech" further on in this blog

Gonzo journalism tends to favor style over fact to achieve accuracy—if accuracy is in fact meant to be achieved at all—and often uses personal experiences and emotions to provide context for the topic or event being covered. It disregards the "polished", edited product favored by newspaper media and strives for a more gritty, personable approach—the personality of a piece is just as important as the event the piece is on. Use of quotations, sarcasmhumor, exaggeration, and profanity is common (Wikipedia definition).

The importance of the images and the perception of the society as a whole thing were predominant in Warhol, Thompson and Lynch. These key three figures (Thompson, Lynch, Warhol) epitomize the concept of the importance of the meaning. 
For Thompson, the perception of how he lived the "news" was important, the point of view, the "trip" trough the experience and the final description of it.
For Warhol, the ordinary object is only a recipe of social meanings. By manipulating them, Warhol achieve new point of view of the everyday objects. 
Kevin Lynch is the Urban Space in this entire phenomenon. He is one of the first Urbanists that study the city from an anthropomorphic point of view. In fact, this is the most important element in Lynch´s research. That mental perception of the environment and how the city is perceived is the core of the Lynch book since he finished building his theory getting elements by interviewing inhabitants of each of the three cities. In addition, Lynch give us the tools to manipulate that context in order to achieve some point of view, public images, place´s meanings, among others.

Pablo A.Estefanell

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