Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

The City in Your Head

There are many types of maps: road maps, topographic maps, political maps, 3-D globes, thematic maps, interactive digital maps—I could go on.  The one thing that all these maps have in common is that they are (usually) created by professionals and distributed to the public. Cartography is an underappreciated art, as I learned last quarter in my GIS course, and accurate maps are crucial to our functioning as a society. That said, wouldn’t it be interesting (albeit not as useful for navigating) if maps were created by the individual user? Kevin Lynch, an urban planner and author, thought so and devised a standardized system in his 1960 book The Image of the City, for residents to sketch personalized, mental maps of their neighborhoods and cities. The maps were created using only five components: paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks. Everyone’s maps turned out differently and the most common components comprised what he termed the “public image”.

After talking about this study in Intro to Urban Design, I decided to make my own Lynch Map of the Stanford campus. And to make it a little more interesting, I recruited my friend Ryan Satterlee to make his own version of the campus. With only our mental images of Stanford as reference, here is what we came up with:


My Map.  


Ryan’s Map.

Remarkably similar! Dashed lines are paths (double dashed are major paths), solid lines are edges, circles are nodes, stars are landmarks, and hatched polygons are districts. We didn’t specify extent and yet we drew almost the boundaries. (Jackelyn Hwang, class of 2007 in sociology, did an incredible honors thesis on the perception of neighborhood boundaries and urban isolation in West Philadelphia. Check it out!) Within our boundaries, we included all of the same districts, nodes, paths and landmarks, with only a handful of exceptions. Stanford is a much smaller area than a full-size city, and I would imagine that there would be much more variation within city-scale Lynch maps.  Even still, I think Lynch would agree that Stanford is a “legible” landscape—it is both easy to recognize its individual parts, as well as organize it into a coherent landscape. 

If you feel so inclined, please post your own Lynch maps (either of Stanford or your own hometown) as a response to this post or as a new post. It’s really fun (and challenging)!  



2 responses to “The City in Your Head

  1. Teresa Nguyen January 22, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    <a href="http://imgur.com/G75c9"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/G75c9.jpg&quot; title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

  2. Teresa Nguyen January 22, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    <a href="http://imgur.com/BL9M0"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/BL9M0.jpg&quot; title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

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