05/04: Crowdsourcing the Image of the City

This post is part of a few others on mapping and neighborhood identity. Another look at Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City, today focusing on the research methodology and the maps derived from this research. Lynch and his team sought out 30 people (admittedly mostly professional and definitely not a random sample of citizens) to complete an office interview. These interviews consisted of A dozen or so questions and required often detailed responses, with the entire exchange tape recorded and lasting an average of 90 minutes. The questionnaire (verbatim, from the book):

  1. What first comes to your mind, what symbolizes the word “Boston” to you? How would you broadly describe Boston in a physical sense?
  2. We would like you to make a quick map of central Boston, inward or downtown from Massachusetts Avenue. Make it just as if you were making a rapid description of the city to a stranger, covering all the main features. We don’t expect an accurate drawing- just a rough sketch. [Interviewer is to take notes on the sequence in which the map is drawn.]
  3. {part a}: Please give me complete and explicit directions for the trip that you normally take going from home to where you work. Picture yourself actually making the trip, and describe the sequence of things you would see, hear, or smell along the way, including the path markers that have become important to you, and the clues that a stranger would need to make the same decisions that you have to make. We are interested in the physical pictures of things. It’s not important if you can’t remember the names of streets and places. [During recital of trip, interviewer is to probe, where needed, for more detailed descriptions].  {part b}: Do you have any particular emotional feelings about various parts of your trip? How long would it take you? Are there parts of the trip where you feel uncertain of your location? [Question 3 is then to be repeated for one or more trips which are standardized for all interviews, i.e., “go on foot from Massachusetts General Hospital to South Station,” or “go by car from Faneuil Hall to Symphony Hall.”]
  4. Now, we would like to know what elements of central Boston you think are most distinctive. They may be large or small, but tell us those that for you are the easiest to identify and remember. [For each of two or three of the elements listed in response to 4, the interviewer goes on to ask question 5:]
  5. [a] Would you describe ___ to me? If you were taken there blindfolded, when the blindfold was taken off what clues would you use to positively identify where you were?  [b] Are there any particular emotional feelings that you have with regard to ___?  [c] Would you show me on your map where ___ is? (and, if appropriate:) Where are the boundaries of it? 
  6. Would you show me on your map the direction of north?
  7. The interview is over now, but it would help if we could just have a few minutes of free discussion. (Remainder of questions are inserted informally:)  [a] What do you think we were trying to find out?  [b] What importance is orientation and the recognition of city elements to people?  [c] Do you feel any pleasure from knowing where you are or where you are going? Or displeasure in the reverse?  [d] Do you find Boston an easy city to find your way in, or to identify its parts?  [e] What cities of your acquaintance have good orientation? Why?

If taken in context (late 1950s) these questions represent a (to my knowledge) novel way to approach to analyze civic identity through the lens of urban planning. What defines Boston? or Philadelphia? or a neighborhood like Belmont? Some of the questions would seem to work better in an office setting between ‘professionals’ than, for instance, a person on the street asking for explicit directions for your commute. The focus in question two on how someone draws a map, specifically in what order elements are added, goes a long way towards understanding how people think and respond to the prompt. Documentation, both verbatim audio from the tape recorder and the notes from the interviewer, made the most of the answers given. Below, specifically figures 35 through 38 of the book, show how responses to the questions aggregated, and how it compared to follow up investigations of the city on the part of the researchers. The other images focus on the findings of the urban planners as they investigated Bunker Hill and Scollay Square in Boston.

fig 35 legend fig 35 38 fig 53 54fig 60 62



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