In his book The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch spoke about the idea of “imageability”, or “that quality in a physical object which gives it a high probability of evoking a strong image in any given observer.”[1] The imageability of a city is linked to the five elements he has defined: nodes, paths, landmarks, edges, and districts, all of which can be observed by anyone in any city.  Between these five concepts intertwining and interacting, a person can develop their own image of a city, an interesting convergence of the personal conception and public physicality.

There are two aspects of these elements that I find particularly intriguing: external v. internal, and perspective.

1- The dichotomy of external and internal interactions with the various elements is one of the components that makes them so comprehensive in expressing an urban environment.  Landmarks and edges are elements that are observed from the outside, and they provide direction and definition without a necessary close proximity to the observer.  Districts, paths and nodes, however, are more experienced internally, with the user utilizing them in a physical way.  Of course all of the elements can be used both externally and internally, but I believe the mixing of the two concepts in the creation of an image of a city makes it that much richer.

2-Perspective: it changes everything.  Lynch brought this up in chapter 3 of his book, and I find it fascinating to think that a user with a slightly different purpose can experience the elements of a city in such a different way than I would.  It opens up practically infinite possibilities for what in an urban environment can be defined as any of the elements in particular- not only can your path be my edge, but it could also be my landmark or node.  This is obviously a stretch in many situations, as some elements are more flexible and others are rather linear or spatial, but it still brings up a very important point about imaging a city: one perspective is definitely never enough, and multiples may show a side that a designer has never conceived.

This brings me to the reason I’m discussing Lynchian ideas in this blog: we will be riding the train line from Ann Arbor to Detroit soon, each looking at different aspects along the way, and discovering how those aspects might apply to Lynch’s five elements philosophy.  In first thinking about it, I see the train line as a path, Ann Arbor and Detroit as districts, the train stops as nodes, and many things along the way as landmarks.  I’m not sure what I believe to be the edge in this situation- perhaps the city or county boundaries?  Do social edges count, like that between Detroit and Grosse Point?  I’m curious to see how the trip itself will change the perspectives I have on these elements in relation to the train line we’ll be riding.


[1] Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City. (Cambridge:  MIT Press, 1960), 9

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