The Image of the City | Study Guide

Kevin Lynch

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The Image of the City | Chapter 1 : The Image of the Environment | Summary



Lynch introduces the reader to the inspiration and purpose of his research. He describes a particular pleasure that viewing a city can bring especially if the city is well designed or if the viewer has a special connection to the city. He notes that many American cities are not well designed and are the result of either a slow spread over time or a population boom that demanded quick expansion with little time for thoughtful planning. Lynch describes the goals of his research as well as the visual qualities of the American cities of Boston, Jersey City, and Los Angeles. Lynch's research reveals several important characteristics of cities that when combined make the city memorable, navigable, and pleasurable. Lynch muses that city planners and people who study the structure and development of urban areas must consider multiple aspects of the city and how these different characteristics come together to influence how the observer interprets urban landscapes.


Lynch compares observing a city to observing a mountain. People can't see the whole mountain all at once but an observer knows that the unobserved parts are as important to the mountain as the parts that are visible. Lynch likens a mountain to a city because a person doesn't usually see the whole city at once. A person has to have a mental image of the places in the city that aren't visible to understand how to navigate the city. He emphasizes the artistry and finesse that good urban planners use to create cities that are pleasing to observe as well as live within.

Lynch's approach to city planning was radical for the times. Other city planners and researchers did not attempt to look at multiple aspects of a city and understand how they are connected or how they influence one another. His research was also different from other studies because he focused on how ordinary citizens viewed cities rather than relying on academic observations. Lynch studied how ordinary citizens perceived the cities where they lived and worked. By focusing on the average citizen rather than the opinions of academics or professionals, Lynch's research provided more practical value than previous studies that focused on statistics and figures.

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