Legible cities movement: are you perceiving you city right?
The movement was born favouring the more legible cities idea being inspired by the book The image of the city which author is K.A. Lynch, an American social 60s geographer. Based from the 90s in Bristol the movement raises an important question about how both citizens and visitors perceive the city.
The question arises regarding the paths and signs that at an urban scale are decided by governments and municipalities rather than by citizens. Thus, for visitors are guided only by superficial visual cues, establishing certain paths in the city and the most important highlights to visit.
The movement raises legible cities, from his birth in Bristol and through the developer creator Mike Rawlinson, the idea of understanding urban signage systems as control systems of urban flows and a network of paths.
Other cities have been implementing this idea in recent years such as New York or London, through, for example, Legible London, that has defined his position as “an invisible helping arm around citizens and tourists.”
We must be careful, however, with the method for mapping city. If only mapped and labelled tourist sites or shopping malls, or not mapping community services, perception of the city that tourists and citizens will have can be very limited or even erroneous. Cases have been demonstrated for example for the inhabitants of San Francisco Bay, where citizens had the idea of living in an area with low community services, which, through a series of studies presented by the University of Berkeley was proved wrong: citizens were completely unaware of most of the services available to them.
On the other hand, why should be governments and municipalities the ones deciding which elements of the city have to be highlighted on maps and more strongly marked in the city? Would not it be possible a collaborative citizen’s based decision-making process?
As mentioned on Italo Calvino story about the visitor to the city of Tamara, you can also run the risk that, exploring the city with an excess of signalling and technologies, will be a bad habit acquired that, may cause in the future that your exploration of the city without them will not be possible: despite having already made a tour or visited a site you will probably not be able to remember the way.