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The Image of the City

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  3,319 ratings  ·  122 reviews
The classic work on the evaluation of city form.

What does the city's form actually mean to the people who live there? What can the city planner do to make the city's image more vivid and memorable to the city dweller? To answer these questions, Mr. Lynch, supported by studies of Los Angeles, Boston, and Jersey City, formulates a new criterion -- imageability -- and shows i
Paperback, Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies, 208 pages
Published June 15th 1964 by MIT Press (first published 1960)
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Aug 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: art-and-design
I have always been perplexed, given our fine architectural and design schools, by the pervasive dullness and banality of urban America. In Lynch I've discovered a like-minded friend: "Not one American city larger than a village is of consistently fine quality, although a few towns have some pleasant fragments. It is hardly surprising, then, that most Americans have little idea of what it can mean to live in such an environment.... they are hardly aware of the potential value of harmonious surrou ...more
Oct 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Kevin Lynch -- he's been on my list of folks to read forever on architecture and cities and space, and with reason as The Image of the City is rather brilliant. He writes:
Looking at cities can give a special pleasure, however commonplace the sight may be. Like a piece of architecture, the city is a construction in space, but one of vast scale, a thing perceived only in the course of long spans of time. City design is therefore a temporal art... At every instant, there is more than the eye can se
Nov 15, 2007 rated it liked it
Image of the City is a seminal book to the field of urban design. In it, Lynch introduces a framework for analyzing the city in terms of five inter-related components: paths, landmarks, nodes, edges, and districts.

Lynch's study, involving Boston, Jersey City, and Los Angeles, although conclusive, is fairly open-ended and its findings result from open-ended field research as well as interviews.

Urban designers and environmental graphic designers today use Lynch's strategies when devising wayfindin
Jun 04, 2011 rated it liked it
The Image of the City by Kevin lynch was first released in 1960 and is a core text for anyone with an interest in Town Planning, Urban Design or the like. Lynch offers a study that considers the way in which cities are perceived and introduces a methodology for research into the field. The correct use of technical terms and repeated examples of the general language associated with the study of urban design is of great use to its intended audience.

In the opening chapters, the author introduces t
Jul 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a really intriguing project, particularly as it was published almost 60 years ago, in 1960. I can't speak for Jersey City or LA, the other two cities examined, but Boston has changed dramatically in some ways, but stayed remarkably the same in others. Interesting to learn Copley Square was in 1960 already a marriage of the new (skyscrapers like John Hancock) and the old (central library, the church, etc.). And that the Christian Science building was, as now, distinctive for being an incr ...more
Sep 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: urban-planning
If you want to frame a shed, you do not need to spend weeks hand-hewing lumber out of an oak from your backyard. You can, but you're probably better off getting lumber from the local lumber yard.

The Image of the City deals primarily with the idea and creation of mental maps, which was probably a novel idea in 1960. And although it's regarded as a fundamental and influential text in urban planning, this was not a worthwhile read for me.

The type and the style, although fine for the time, didn't wo
Aug 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Even though it is an old text (1960), and the most 'academic' in its scope, I found this book to be the more interesting of the set. Maybe because it answered some of the issues I have been preoccupied with, regarding the urban reality of Athens. The concepts of legibility and the value of empiricism over theory, in talking about a city & its architecture helps explain why, for example, Omonia square will always be a site of 'chaos', despite efforts to 'humanize' the location.
Sep 21, 2011 rated it liked it
Good book, a classic, it has some useful information, especially if you're interested in town planning but I found it really tiring to read, i could hardly stay focused in about half the book, my eyes grew tired because the letters are tiny and I was counting the pages left until the end of the book all the time! I didn't enjoy reading this at all, I just hope someone had told me what the important bits are so I could skip all the rest!! ...more
Jan 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: archi-stuff
Helpful for building one's own theories based on city imageability !
Mar 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: factual, phd
Lynch provides clear analysis of the cognitive maps formed by inhabitants of his selected US cities. This seminal book has influenced so much of what I'm reading so it's useful to return to the source material. ...more
Jeff Stern
Sep 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting research study and methodology concludes that strong visual form not only makes a city more livable but also improves quality of life. Suck it, Jersey City.
Joe Michalak
Oct 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Admittedly, this book got a bit more technical than a book like that of Jane Jacobs, although both have practical implications for city planning and urban studies. Using the examples of Boston, Jersey City, and Los Angeles (with some Manhattan and Chicago interspersed), the author explores how various physical design aspects create memorable cities. This is given based on a context that cities are constantly changing and evolving, and also the question is raised (and briefly discussed) as to how ...more
Oct 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The author makes a case for the image of the city (how it looks), is it relevant, and does it play a part in one's perception and way-finding abilities. Yes it does matter so that parts of a city can be related to the whole of the city, so that users can easily and happily find their way, and so that the quality of life in cities can be improved. I really like the author's approach to diagramming each city. I only wish I would have read this as a first year architecture student instead of a rece ...more
Sep 10, 2008 added it
Shelves: urbanism
The problems of planning have rarely been put together so succinctly. Rather than promoting grand "modernist" plans for revamping cityspace, Lynch promotes a far more modest approach, favoring legibility, utility, and humanity. Calling up the examples of Boston, Jersey City, and LA (all circa 1960), Lynch provides us with a tactical approach to both the psychogeography of our cities and the ways to reclaim space. ...more
Feb 04, 2009 rated it it was ok
This is considered the bible of urban design texts, but frankly I think it is lacking. Lynch examines various aspects of cities - nodes, paths, edges, etc - drawing upon extensive research he performed in the 1950s. If you haven't been to the places he writes about, Boston, Jersey City, San Fran, it can be difficult to fully understand what he is referring to. Surely someone could produce an updated version of this to reflect the design challenges of today's cities. ...more
Nick Carraway LLC
Feb 26, 2017 rated it liked it
1) "Looking at cities can give a special pleasure, however commonplace the sight may be. Like a piece of architecture, the city is a construction in space, but one of vast scale, a thing perceived only in the course of long spans of time. City design is therefore a temporal art, but it can rarely use the controlled and limited sequences of other temporal arts like music. On different occasions and for different people, the sequences are reversed, interrupted, abandoned, cut across. It is seen in ...more
Dec 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"The creation of the environmental image is a two-way process between observer and observed. What he sees is based on exterior form, but how he interprets and organizes this, and how he directs his attention, in its turn affects what he sees. The human organism is highly adaptable and flexible, and different groups may have widely different images of the same outer reality."

"The feeling and value of an imageable environment are well summed up in Proust's moving description (in "Du Cote de chez S
Jun 28, 2016 rated it liked it
Kevin Lynch is concerned not so much with the actual physical substance of the city but rather with the image that that substance conveys. Our ideas of a city, he says, are mixed with memories and meanings. In this sense, his thinking is not unlike that of David Kolb in *Sprawling Places*, which argues suburbs need to be seen as areas of greater complexity than they typically are via the memories and meanings attached to locales. Rather than mourn chain stores taking over an area, we can see the ...more
Aug 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Thought this was a quite interesting and sophisticated way to look at how we conceive of cities in our minds. Lynch lays out what imageability is and why it matters, then through case studies of Boston, Jersey City, and Los Angeles, explores the 5 elements that make up the image of the city: paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks. The strength of these elements, their interactions, and their synthesis into a total image help determine whether a city is comprehensible and navigable.

I feel
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"Moving elements in a city, and in particular the people and their activities, are as important as the stationary physical parts. We are not simply observers of this spectacle, but are ourselves a part of it, on the stage with the other participants. Most often, our perception of the city is not sustained, but rather partial, fragmentary, mixed with other concerns. Nearly every sense is in operation, and the images is the composite of them all." (2)

"Another [Jersey City] woman spoke of driving o
Jan 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: planning
The premise is interesting: how do people think about their cities? What impresses on their memories? What are the component parts, and what are the important features of these parts in a good city?

I just found the execution was a bit of a mess. The maps and figures are often scattered throughout the book and sometimes a challenge to interpret or rely on, and some of the appendices could have easily been moved into the actual text. Lynch's writing tends to reach for an academic tone and just end
Sarwesh Shah
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Kevin Lynch's thesis is a spectacular piece of research that attempted to theorise the idea of city forms. Very few researchers have managed to intervene in the abstractness that research premise offers and come up with such powerful yet simple connotations. It is no wonder that this book is helping city planners develop a better layout for the new city sectors. The book also describes the effect of a city landscape on its inhabitants.
An extract from this book was a pre-read for our course 'Narr
Andrew Galloway
Jan 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
Kevin Lynch's seminal study on humans' perception of city environments is A) fascinating, but also B) not really conclusive. To be fair, he was writing in the 60s when "urban planning" was hardly a field, and when modernism held everyone in the throes of international-style office buildings, highways and tower apartment blocks.

His studies open up a fascinating (even philosophical) discussion—what clues help a person make sense of, imagine, and describe their city? However, I don't think he was e
Eric Wallace
Dec 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: incomplete
This is the kind of book I particularly love stumbling upon, simply because it expands my mind with ideas I hadn't given much thought to before.

It is densely packed with references to anthropological studies, literary quotes, and abstractions explained succinctly — a scholarly work that's beautifully written so it becomes accessible.

It quickly engaged my inner geek in such a way that, after reading about the topic of Appendix A on page six, I immediately proceeded to read that entire appendix be
Carl Fairclough
Jul 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting conclusions drawn regarding how we orient ourselves in environments, and applicable to fields outside urban planning.

My main criticism is the ordering of the content — the appendices were far more interesting to me than the core content. I think it would have been much better to have read these (citations of anthropological studies & literary references, and the methodology) before the rest of the book.

Otherwise interesting, and highly applicable to design of any kind.
Aug 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Useful and academic. Sometimes though I just wanted simpler language to convey the concepts. The diagrams were helpful in clarifying the ideas. Wondering about the explicit role of open space in city-building and image. May have to re-read some sections. It seemed a bit heavy on buildings and streets. I'll have to find a corresponding book dealing with the structural role of open space to urban image.

Jennifer Stoloff
Aug 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
This is an important book that I had only read part of until I finally got it done. I didn't love it. I think a lot of the ideas are important but the style is elliptical and doesn't bother to define most of the key terms. It's clear what they mean but the relative importance or use of "path" or "node" is rather subjective and difficult to contextualize. ...more
Jordan Orelli
Jul 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
as a game designer, I read this book because I've heard about its influence in urban planning and in video game environment design. I found it to be very instructive, and I think often about this text when working on creating environments for video games. This book has a tremendous amount of explanatory power, but manages to do so at a length that will not waste any of your time. ...more
Cedric Akl
Oct 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
The practical approach that Kevin Lynch proposed in analyzing and viewing three American cities through "imageability" (as he calls it) and interviews reveal in a certain aspect the physical manifestation of the genius loci and how one can bring up many conclusions based upon that, to try to create a successful, in terms of space and livability, city. ...more
Alice Lemon
Oct 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'm really glad I read's a wonderful study of how people form mental maps and images of cities, and so useful for thinking about urban design, but also thinking about my own experiences navigating cities and places. ...more
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Kevin Andrew Lynch was an American urban planner and author. His most influential books include The Image of the City (1960) and What Time is This Place? (1972).

Lynch studied at Yale University, Taliesin (studio) under Frank Lloyd Wright, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and received a Bachelor's degree in city planning from MIT in 1947.[1] He worked in Greensboro, NC as an urban planner but was

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