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Kevin Lynch was an urban planner and MIT professor who wrote the landmark book, Image of the City, which was published in 1960. The book influenced a generation of urban planners, urban designers and other design professionals. Lynch published the book as a critique of the poorly planned post-war cities (with their urban renewal and urban highways) that tried to compete with the rapidly suburbanizing American landscape. In so doing, he offered a new way of thinking about the psychology of cities. Lynch’s lectures and writings explained how people used mental maps to perceive and navigate through places like cities.
Lynch’s “mental maps” were based on five core elements: paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks. You can see those elements in today’s comprehensive plans, master plans and redevelopment plans. Rather than having cities mimic the development patterns of the suburbs, Lynch established a new identity for cities called “imageability”; the term refers to the fact that well-formed objects—and urban elements—leave a strong visual imprint on us. They have imageability. Lynch saw cities as authentic and organic, and argued that they relied more on the pedestrian experience than the driving experience.
Since the 1990s, cities have been making a comeback. Lynch influenced a generation of planners and designers at a time when cities were not fashionable or the preferred places to live. While some may not disagree, I believe New Urbanism, contemporary master planning and placemaking were shaped in part by Lynch. He elevated the role of urban design, city planning and introduced a new consciousness about “sense of place.” Twenty-first century cities owe Kevin Lynch a debt of gratitude for the resurgence of placemaking and good urban design—a resurgence that has been 50 years in the making. {…}