Lynch, K. (1960). _The Image of the City_. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Before getting his Bachelor of City Planning degree from MIT and becoming a longtime faculty member at the MIT School of Architecture and Urban Planning, Lynch studied at Yale University and under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin in Wisconsin. He is considered to be one of the most influential thinkers in contemporary urban planning.

No planning student doesn’t know about this book. In 1960, Lynch published case studies of three cities, Boston, Jersey City, and Los Angeles (field observation and interviews), advocating that urban design is “a temporal art” (1) and that a city’s legibility, the facility with which a city’s components can be distinguished, is essential. Moreover, the visual quality of the environment serves a distinct social purpose, namely, environmental security. The three components of an environmental image are identity, structure, and meaning. This book is a study into and about the city image’s identity and structures.

Imageability is the “quality in a physical object which gives it a high probability of evoking a strong image in any given observer” (9). Other names are legibility or visibility – this study is expressly interested in “the need for identity and structure in our perceptual world, and to illustrate the special relevance of this quality to the particular case of the complex, shifting urban environment” (10).

The book’s thesis: we can create our environment’s image “by operation on the external physical shape” (12), as well as internally.

The five elements of a city! (1) path (2) edge (3) node (4) landmark (5) district

They interrelate and are sometimes two things at once, or embedded in each other (e.g. districts contain). They can be designed specifically to give sensuous clues. For example, paths, which generally structure the city, can be designed with/for: visual hierarchies, clarity of direction, differentiated, kinesthetic, etc. We can make an imageable landscape is that is “visible, coherent, and clear” (91).

“As an artificial world, the city should be so in the best sense: made by art, shaped for human purposes” (95).

Form qualities can be summarized as having: singularity, form simplicity, continuity, dominance, clarity of joint, directional differentiation, visual scope, motion awareness, time series, and names and meanings. The “sense of the whole” speaks to how our “five elements—path, edge, district, node, and landmark—must be considered simply as convenient empirical categories, within and around which it has been possible to group a mass of information” (109). Lynch avers that “the functional unit of our environment” (112) is the metropolitan one, in which a major node is surrounded by minor ones. “It is the thesis of these pages that a large city can have sensuous form” (119).

“A highly developed art of urban design is linked to the creation of a critical and attentive audience. If art and audience grow together, then our cities will be a source of daily enjoyment to millions of their inhabitants” (120).


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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Planning Theory, Public Space, Research Fields


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