The book by Lynch on the city’s image has the major idea that people living in urban areas familiarize themselves by use of mental maps. The author researched and compared three cities in America: Boston, Los Angeles and Jersey City. The book is based on a central notion of legibility. He considers the visual quality of the American cities by taking a comprehensive study on the mental image of the city, which the citizens uphold.
Legibility is the extent to which people can ‘read’ the city in such a way that individuals moving through and around the city may find it easier to find their way. The author emphasizes that the people should be in a position to identify and organize the elements of the city in a logically and understandable pattern to be used in route finding Lynch was able to separate various features of the city and was able to see what was so vibrant and attractive to the people. The author used the environmental image as the strategic link that is used by the people in their way finding.
The image of the city that people develop is the product that is held by the present sensation and of the past memory of experiences. The mental representations together with the actual image of the city made Lynch come up with various elements, which he described as the networks of paths, districts, edges, nodes and landmarks. These five elements represent the mental picture of the city. Paths are the channels or the means through which people use to move along when they travel, which include the trails, roads and the sidewalks. Edge is the second element, which consists of seashores and walls. Districts are that section of the city that is relatively substantial in size and that which has identity character. An example of a district is the wealthy neighborhood called Beverly Hills. A node consists of the busy intersection of the city. The final element is the landmark, which consists of the external physical objects such as a school, mountain or any object that acts as a reference. All these elements are important to people living in the city, since they organize urban mobility (Lange, 2009).
A clear map that people have in their mind about the urban environment is useful to reduce the looming fear of disorientation. The mental map gives people a valuable element of emotional security; it gives a framework of communication and sense of organization. Moreover, it increases the intensity of day-to-day human activities and experiences. People take the city to be a powerful, not easy to memorize and complex society. The city environment is portioned into three components; the recognition of the elements of the urban as separate entities is called the identity component. The structure component is meant to give some relationship between urban elements and the physical objects and to the people. The final component gives the practical and emotional meaning to the observer. The elements of the city structure are meant to actively engage the individuals in creating their own way out in the complex environment. Lynch’s work has been of great help to the architect and city designers in forming and planning the city in such a way that it will give some room for mapping, learning and shaping. The people should be in a position to learn to go from one place to another, and hence be able to operate and act appropriately according to the environment they are in.
It may be argued against the importance of physical legibility that the human brain is marvelously adaptable, with some experience one can learn to pick one’s way through the most disordered or featureless surrounding. There are abundant examples of precise navigation over the trackless sea and sand through a tangled maze of jungle. Lynch’s work has raised some questions, which are important in current society. Are people capable of finding ways or is it an activity that people learn with time? Lynch clearly states that it is unlikely that way finding is mystic instinct but this theory seems to be outdone by the recent biological evidence on bird’s migration where they use their instinct. It could also be true to people.
Lynch’s works is further critised because he primarily emphasized on the visual sense. The book greatly emphasizes that people find their way by the use of visual sense. However, they do not use their other senses such as hearing and smelling. It could have been assumed that media did not have a major role in finding ways; at the time this book was written in 1960, which makes Lynch miss the point that cities have had signs and street names from the time they are inscribed.
As stated above, Lynch's work has been of great use around the world for city planners and designers. It has been used in cases where new cities are created and in the development of the existing ones. The residents of the cities benefit greatly from the use of images and the elements that have been put in place for way finding and security use in a clearer form. However, it is currently being recognized in a similar field of spatial cognition. Present methods of research have included the use of virtual technologies of the environment in order to investigate the various unexplored areas. The use of virtual environment technology has enabled the researcher to manipulate geographical elements within the environment together with their location in the virtual world because it would be impossible to have the alternations in the real world. Examples of researches that have been conducted include finding specific location angles of the city elements that have made it easier for way finding. Additionally, the research has been used to determine how people position their body and especially their head while navigating around the environment and around the world. Lynch's research has facilitated in helping to determine the best elements in a city that would give a better and easier perception and resulted to a more accurate mental maps to be used by the city dwellers.
Lynch’s study has stated that urbanization is always under constant change. We still find that today after so many years after Lynch’s research. People associate the environmental images with the urban life. The physical features in the city give an individual sense of place and they feel more secure. This sense is very important for any urban environment to be termed as successful. In case an individual is lost in the city and he is able to associate his/ her way by using landmarks and paths, then that person will end up feeling more secure and he/she will find the correct route. Even today, the paths and streets in the city are given names in order to give directions. A lot of progress though has taken place where people apply GPS in finding the directions. In addition, the use of mobile phones and Internet has changed the way people get their ways in towns and in cities. Although landmarks and nodes are still in place, today it is easier to find a way from a single touch of a button.
In conclusion, I would say that Lynch’s study and research has been of relevant importance to the architects and planners. The study has facilitated visual communication in urban areas, which brings together the individuals, experiences and planners in order to form a common communication thread around the city.