The Image of the Digital City: Revisiting Lynch’s Principles of Urban Legibility

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Published in: Journal of American Planning Association, vol. 84, 2018.


Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City (1960) is a seminal urban design theory notable for its clear delineation of urban form, empirically rooted methodology, and synthesis of architecture and planning as an important domain. Since its publication in 1960, however, urban experience has evolved alongside the pervasiveness of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Given this new information landscape, we present two research efforts that seek to define the legibility of cities today. The first approach investigates the relevance of Lynch’s five urban elements and the effects of ICTs on environmental perception during wayfinding. Findings show that mental images of cities are shifting in focus to include places of functional significance, and when ICTs are used, Lynch’s elements have less spatial accuracy compared with analog methods. This can affect how planners and designers apply physical, social, and economic significance to urban elements, which can also influence the methods they use to evaluate, design, and plan cities. The second approach expands on Lynch’s work by investigating the city through data, both to develop new understandings of cities and to advance the toolkit professionals use to examine urban issues. Our research seeks to enhance Lynch’s work with technological considerations and equip professionals with approaches to analyze the impact of ICTs on urban experience.