The planning and urban design academic Kevin Lynch died in 1984, well before I was born. Now, over 30 years later, does his work still matter?
In their introduction to the Journal of the American Planning Association’s most recent special issue, authors Tridib Banerjee, Gary Hack, and Michael Southworth explore the contributions of their late mentor Kevin Lynch to the planning field. Lynch perhaps is best known for his classic 1960 book The Image of the City, in which he delineates city form as a network of landmarks, nodes, paths, edges, and districts. While the knowledge of many individuals may stop there, his former students paint a richer portrait:
“[w]e were all deeply influenced by his design philosophy and touched by his wit and humanity, his concerns for human and environmental consequences of the design and management of the built and natural environments, and his unwavering commitment to participation and justice” (Banerjee et al., 2018, 214).
Illustration from The Image of the City, as reproduced with permission in JAPA, Vol. 84, No. 3-4.
It is this commitment to participation that led Lynch to study how people experience the city. Lynch’s work offered an opportunity for the planners to co-construct the city with those who inhabit it.
By means of mental maps, the planner was challenged to see the city from the perspective of the resident or worker, learning of meaning where perhaps it was not readily apparent. At the same time, the citizen was asked to approach the city with enthusiasm and imagination. This speaks to the extent of Lynch’s engagement work, which has served as a method not only for adults but also children.
As planners celebrate Lynch, who would have turned 100 in 2018, I hope that we may continue to take inspiration from him — to conduct our work with “pragmatism, appreciation of the urban sensorium and its human experience, nature and ecology of life, and a strong belief in user initiatives and engagement in shaping and managing the built environment.”
I, too, hope that planners may build upon Lynch’s work to provide greater opportunities for participation. Banerjee, Hack, and Southworth suggest social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram can now enable citizens to share with planners the relationships they see within the city in real time, providing planners with a dynamic image of the city.
Read a full copy of Banerjee, Hack, and Southworth’s tribute to Kevin Lynch in JAPA.
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Top image: JAPA logo.
About the Author
Kyle Miller is a Master in Urban Planning candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.