The City Image and its Elements
I admire the clarity and organization of this book by Kevin Lynch. The path, which Lynch recognizes as “channels along which the observer customarily, occasionally, or potentially moves,” can be misleading from the image of the city. Particularly, the freeway, which divides and cuts through the city, separating the elements into districts and zones. The freeway makes the subject oblivious to their surrounding; camouflaging the image of the city in place of road signs and traffic. Take for example, the shoreway in Cleveland, which runs from Lakewood through downtown Cleveland. The shoreway portrays this role as a divider. The numerous exits and turns distract the driver from recognizing the city around them. Coming off an exit ramp is “typically a moment of severe disorientation.” As Lynch notes, even familiar drivers show a surprising’ lack of knowledge of the freeway system and its connections in the case with Los Angeles. Another good example is Pittsburgh. I find myself paying close attention to the complex transportation routes and interchanges rather than taking in the image of the city.
My first comment leads to another observation I’ve made in the case of the image of the city. I have noticed, through my experience so far in Cleveland, that the junction, or the place of a break in transportation, has a compelling significance for the city observer. Lynch notes these areas as being nodes into which the observer can enter. As Lynch quotes, “because decisions must be made at junctions, people heighten their attention at such places and perceive nearby elements with more than normal clarity.” I can agree with this statement up to a certain point. I believe that people heighten their attention at these places, but I don’t necessarily believe that they pay closer attention to the nearby elements of the city. A good example is Euclid corridor. As I was observing people walking across Euclid Corridor I noticed that most of their attention was directed toward the traffic and the traffic signals rather than what I would consider the “elements” of the city: the architecture, the buildings, the landscape, the streetscape, and the people. Euclid corridor seems to serve its purpose: it interrupts the thoughts in your brain if only for a moment and portrays that junction point that Lynch notes as a structural unit dividing the city.
Camillo Sitte and “The Art of Building Cities”
Sitte notes the importance of the public square in ancient times and how modern planners and designers lack the ability to maintain that same degree of importance with cities today. Cities no longer have distinct character. Merging ideas and motifs from various cities creates cities that are mingled in character. It would be interesting to compare Colin Rowe and “Collage Cities” with Camillo Sitte. According to Sitte, as a result of “Collage Cities,” local characteristics are gradually disappearing. In comparison, Rowe proposes a city which can accommodate a whole range of utopias in miniature.
The Soaring Twenties
This excerpt recognizes a theme, whether or not the author intended to or not, that I have studied most recently and that is the theme of “individualism vs. collectivism,” not in politics but within a man’s soul. This theme is most portrayed in the field of architecture because, as Bascomb mentions, “man wanted to make his mark on the world, and the structures he built became a statement of self.” During the time that this book was written, America was going through a dramatic change in Architecture, among many other things. The switch from a classical style of architecture to a more modern style received much criticism. A classical representation was considered a collective motif; one that reflected the conservative values of society. The modern style portrayed individuality in the sense that it only conformed to the needs of a select few architects. Individualism can be attributed to tall buildings, like Bascomb makes clear in his book. “The Woolworth Building was going to be like a giant signboard to advertise around the world [my] spreading chain of five-and-ten cent-stores.” But lets face it, we find satisfaction in the idea that our buildings are a reflection of ourselves and so why should we be anything but autonomous thinkers; not molded playthings of “social conditioning.”
New York, New York: How the Apartment House Transformed the Life of the City
As little as I know about New York City, this reading helped me recognize the impact it had on the rest of the America. Although the apartment house was an old European way of life, many Americans saw it as a vision of the future, and there lies the difference. The apartment house helped reconnect the city that was once a series of separate households, as most suburban areas are today. A new community of interests was established, promising a new sociality. Planners began designing residential blocks rather than individual buildings; complexes rather than units. It was this type of change that made people evolve from European to an American way: we are innovators to our own success, we learn from our own mistakes and other countries will learn from us.
Arthur F. Wright
“The Cosmology of the Chinese City,” in Skinner, ed., The City in Late Imperial China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1977.
1.) The Ancient Chinese City as a Cosmo-magical Symbol
Wright notes the significance of the ancient Chinese emperor as a leading power towards the conversion of a profane (hostile) space into sacred (propitious, habitual) space. When we think of sacred space today, we think of spaces affected by tragedy, political, social or cultural events that transform the space from what was once profane and insignificant. An example is the World Trade Center in New York City which was once an icon of world trade and was transformed into a sacred place as a result of a tragedy. Can sacred space be designed in a modern city and still achieve the same affect it had on the ancient Chinese citizens? Or have we lost the power to evoke scariness artificially (without any natural occurrence) in modern times?
2.) In ancient Chinese cities the walls were the first architectural features to be built. They held a fine prominence in the city as they were built to be the tallest structure in the city, higher than the royal palace. This observation means that the frame and internal ordering of the ancient Chinese city tended to be fixed. It is hard to draw a boundary around the cities today (like Cleveland) unless you look on a map. City boundaries are not as significant as they used to be. In fact, when you are driving long distances very rarely do you recognize what city you are driving through. We have lost the ability to differentiate cities. Aspects that define a certain city are mimicked in other cities. As a result, they seem to merge into one another rather than establish their own identity.
3.) The New Downtown
It is obvious from this reading that the shift from downtown to the strip was a result of personal mobility. Spatial order was redefined and shopping centers began appearing in suburban communities. Rybozynski notes the effect that shopping centers had on the community: they became urban places, accommodating more than just retailers; they now functioned like a city. The question immediately becomes quite clear: Rather than relocate the city, in a sense, to new areas of suburban influence, why not redefine the existing city? The answer lies in the fact that people want to feel the benefits of an urban setting without going through the hassle of driving to the city and engaging it entirely. What does this image of the shopping center tell us about the way we should design cities to satisfy the needs of the people?
4.) There is a fine line between an established “downtown” area and a shopping center developed as a “new downtown.” Shopping centers are catered towards the middle-class. They are managed places- strictly policed, regularly cleaned, properly maintained and kept vacant-free- as well as convenient places- they provide you with all your needs in one place- washrooms, food, entertainment and amusement can all be satisfied. Cities, on the other hand, are harder to mage- buildings are left vacant, streets and sidewalks are left dirty, crime is higher and parking is harder to find and usually expensive, and the list goes on. It is no wonder why shopping centers are more attractive. Must cities become more catered towards the middle class in order to achieve the success that shopping centers have been able to maintain?
5.) A Theory of Good City Form
In the case of Boston, transformation from the city to the suburbs is motivated by a variety of factors including the notion of “the control of space in order to control the productive process and its participants.” Cul de sacs, gated communities, walls, gates and the like are aimed at allowing residents to control their space and protect it from outsiders. Again this issue of security comes up in the public realm. We all want to feel the protection of containment- bounded by the walls of our house and the distance from our neighbors. How can we design public spaces while still maintaining some degree of control to satisfy this feeling of containment and thus satisfy the needs of the individuals?
Brandon E. Young