Environmental Desire

Environmental Desire

I am very interested in the way humans react to their environment, particularly within a city. This theme is something that runs through most aspects of my academic work, even where it may not be so obvious. Within art history for example, my favorite period is arguably Post-War– while I’m absolutely in love with the art itself, what fascinates me most about the Post-War years is the brutal anxiety felt by almost everyone after the shaking of entire nations– and the way people reacted to bitter, alienating violence.

However people felt, the Post-War years were ones characterized by human reaction to the environment, and this is a phenomenon which, quite obviously, crosses into the boundary of my other academic interest– spatial design. Spatial design breaks into several subcategories, including architecture, planning, and sociology, but in general, is concerned with the relationship that humans have with space, and that interior has with exterior. These are things that I like to think about, and are also things that run deep within the history of art.

One of my favorite occurrences, curiosities, circumstances– whatever you might call it– in spatial design and placemaking, is the “desire path”. You may or may not have heard of it, but I think it is one of the most honest and frankly, primal phenomenons that we still experience every day in urban life. The desire path, quite simply, is a path, usually marked by trodden down greenery, that is created by humans as a sign of preference to the built environment. They usually appear in places where the man-made route is unnecessarily long, or just not preferable for some reason. The beauty of the desire path for me lies in the name; “desire.” There is something so instinctive and even subconscious about the way these emerge, and even something quite humbling about it. Humbling, in the sense that to me, it is a reminder that we are impulsive creatures, who operate largely by an inherent primitivity– which, in this case, manifests itself in our desire to move across the landscape as efficiently as possible, unshaken by the momentary departure from the safety of cement tiling.

The paths operate on a huge variety of scales; some are no more than two feet long, some stretch and intertwine across hundreds of feet– and that’s what makes them great.

Some shave milliseconds, daily, off of the lives of thousands of humans:

Desire path 4 2

Some give us the luxury of a second option; a scenic route, if you will:

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The rare case of the path formed as a result of human psychological conformity:

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Desire paths even occur in what seems like the least malleable, shakeable environment in city; the school. Here, the human sticks to the inside lane for optimum speed between classes:

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Some institutions, like Rider University, cleverly wait to build paths until the preferred routes are made clear by the the humans that inhabit the space:

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What makes desire paths so special is that they are one of the most candid views in existence; hard evidence of human choice and perception of the environment– and essentially, an honest view into our reaction to environmental manipulation– or, placemaking.

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One Scent to Ride this Train!

One Scent to Ride this Train!

To me, the spirit of a place is made up of the various aspects that contribute to one’s experience at or in it. Be it the same “morning sweetie” from your mother each day around 8:30, the reliable wheeze of your car at the turn of a key, or the loud and sharp ticks of your school’s clocks, we construct places in our minds based on the relationship between our senses and surroundings.

One crucial factor in the creation of spirit is the scent we associate with any given place. Although it has been studied extensively in correlation to memory, I still feel that the power of smell is overlooked– that said, it may just be that I am more sensitive to it than most. In any case, I was spurred to write this by Lucy Lippard’s “The Lure of the Local,” in which she describes her ability to “fall into places” with ease. She can “take [her] daily walks in a kind of out-of-body form,” experiencing “weather, texture, views, seasons” and other idiosyncrasies of a place without actually being there. I like to see this as the ability to fabricate spirit of place with one’s own mental capacity. Anyway, I really empathized with Lippard here– I feel the same way, only with the trigger of scent.

The single smell that made me realize the power of the olfactory was that of my first cologne (that I wore with pride) when I was about 15. It was a scent by Davidoff, and I hadn’t taken a whiff in years, until one afternoon in November 2013, trawling about Heathrow terminal 5, I recognized the aqua blue bottle perched up high on a duty free shelf. I sprayed one spray onto a sliver of test paper and inhaled it deeply through my nose. Unbelievable– Islesboro, Maine in the summer of 2010 swallowed me whole. All at once I felt the glowing evening light, the clinks of dinner parties, the thrill of hopping fences to dive into the pools of strangers. I bought 2.5 ounces on the spot, and it still sits on my desk as I write this.

The spirit of many other of my life’s places are heavily dictated by scent. Wood chips, for example, take me right to my dad’s work cabin in Cornwall, Connecticut. Chrysanthemums– you guessed it– to my sunny living room in Shanghai. Cigarette smoke is another particularly strong case. My grandmother, Maria Teresa, smokes like no one I know, and her apartment on the Upper East side is always filled with plumes of the tobacco fog. I visit her less now, but when I was younger I’d  stop by her place almost every weekend. I don’t smoke, but I have a lot of friends who do. Pretty much without fail, one hearty whiff of anyone’s smoke and I’m sitting on my grandma’s velvet couch watching her make Lingonberry jam in the kitchen.

I feel similarly regarding particular music albums. There are a select few that are just as relevant to the spirit of certain places as views from windows, textures beneath my feet, and even characteristic scents. The Blade Runner soundtrack, to name one, takes me right to my study in my house in London. The difference between sounds and scents for me, however, is that the scents don’t really wear down. For example, the more I listen to the Blade Runner soundtrack at my desk here in New York, the less it reminds me of London– whereas I can spend all month around friends who smoke like fiends and I’m still at my Grandma’s.

Spirit of place, it seems, is governed by different elements for different people, and is more physical for some than it is for others. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have a high sensitivity toward the structural components that make up my every day environments– and something as impermanent as scent can fix itself in my memory more firmly than anything tangible ever could.

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A City to Watch

A City to Watch

When I’m alone, I spend, if not waste, a lot of time looking at everyday things. And I don’t mean stationary things, like buildings or paintings or books (although I do love all of those), but things that move, or are powered in some way– hands, dogs, the weather. It’s more like watching– I suppose I like to watch things. Anyway, I left New York City when I was six, and didn’t live here again until college. In the time in between, my family and I would visit several times a year. We still own an apartment on West 18th street, but have been renting it out since we left the city. So, we’d stay with one of our many relatives scattered about town– most often, with my grandpa on the upper east side.

He’s old, his dog isn’t, and I like dogs. So, whenever I was here I’d sub in for the normal dog-walker, generally without complaint. The dog run in central park was always a blast, more so for Schnapps than me though, so sometimes we’d compromise and ditch the park for Park avenue, or maybe Lexington, and go for a city walk. I’d always find myself drifting off as I plodded along the pavement, leash in hand. I’d see a man heaving a crate of concierge service bells, or a doll in a window that resembled my first grade teacher, and I’d float into aimless trains of thought and mental loops.

Eventually, at around 14 years old, I began to get a feeling of real satisfaction after a nice walk in the street. I specifically remember likening it to the feeling I got when I watched TV– just that instead of the scenes playing out on a screen in front of me, I’d use my two legs to move myself through the scenes. I began to walk without Schnapps, simply for the enjoyment of walking and seeing. This brings me to my main point, which is that if there ever was a city that could be seen as a form of entertainment in its own right, for me, it’s New York. The effect has since been worn down, but I do still feel that walking here is more entertaining than walking in the other cities I’ve lived in. I think it’s funny, but strange– looking at a city as something inherently entertaining. There is so much to take pleasure in seeing, yet unlike other forms of entertainment, events occur organically. Perhaps that’s why it is so exciting– because it’s like watching TV, but with scenes that aren’t prearranged, and endings that are up for grabs. It’s sort of like watching sports, or like reading a “choose your own adventure” gamebook. In any case, it’s a feeling that I try not to hyper-analyze. I’d hate to crack the code and lose the little amusement I still get from the city in the raw!

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The Dangers of Conceptualizing Place

The Dangers of Conceptualizing Place

I’m certainly taking a turn for the darker with this post, at least darker than what the blog usually offers, but the subject matter is important, and also very interesting to consider with “place” vs “placelessness” in mind.

In his book, Relph touches very briefly on Hiroshima’s role in the discussion of placelessness, and categorizes the bombing alongside that of Vietnam, Dresdon, and London as one “manifestation of placelessness.” What I’d like to write about is not the event itself, but the planning of the event, and how it really was the essence of what Relph refers to as an “imposition of homogeneity.”

Before the atomic bombings of Japan, earlier in the second world war, The US military developed a series of tactical maps of Japan’s major cities. This was far from ordinary military cartography, however; Japan was abstracted into flat black and gray landscape, and ranked by population density, inflammability, and other efficiently brutal markers. An entire country had been transformed from a series of aerial photographs, into basic annotated drawings, into hunks of blackness that marked utter death. Japan had essentially been made “presentable” for the event of its own destruction.

Tokyo Inflammable Areas

An “emphasis on the abstract…rather than individual or community life” is very clear here. Japan was wholly redefined into a display of spatial intelligence and nothing else. The military coughed up all sorts of dissociating numbers, for example the calculation that by demolishing seventy percent of all housing in various large Japanese cities, Japan’s industrial output would decrease by fifteen percent. Entire cities were robbed of their corporeality and hidden behind statistics. With every calculation or abstraction, the reality of the experience was betrayed; at every step, more “there” was taken from Japan’s “there.” In Relph’s words, cities became “incidental”– the only concern was whether “the specific goal was reached with a satisfactory level of efficiency”

Kofu Urban Area

So what is interesting here, in the context of Relph’s writing, is the notion that “placelessness” does not only come about as a result of gradual human activity or inactivity, but can be violently and immediately thrust upon a place– in Japan’s case, before any action was even taken. Arguably, Japan’s “place” was not lost in the moment of atomic explosion, but in the moment that the US military remodeled entire cities as dull visual fields, each with a “casual air of detachment” from human life.

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  • Tokyo Inflammable Areas: A Cartographic Fade to Black
  • Kofu Urban Area: A Cartographic Fade to Black
  • Tokyo- the Morning After: A Cartographic Fade to Black
Growing into Place

Growing into Place

Henry Choa

When we speak about interior Architecture, and about the sense of place it cultivates, we typically imagine hallways, windows, ceilings; generally pretty stable constructions. Structures that aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. These are the structures that spawn a building’s sense of place in the mind of an occupant. Since we associate sense of place with something long-standing, often something historical, it’s interesting to consider a building or space that has a fluid sense of place; one that is shifted and altered on a monthly basis.

“Launch pad” is program run by my Dad’s current girlfriend Sarah. Sarah is an art collector with two daughters and a dog and a large house in Northeast London. The idea behind Launch pad is to handpick young, British installation artists, who Sarah sees potential in, and to provide them with an exhibition space for two weeks. In the first week they build one piece, and in the second they exhibit. Sarah brings in dealers, critics, gallerists, who get to know the artist and their work. By the end of the period, a sort of swap is realized. Sarah has created value for the artist, and in exchange, the artist sells Sarah the piece he or she has created for a good price. Anyway, what’s most important about this, at least in terms of this post, is that the exhibition space is Sarah’s house. Every couple months, a new artist comes in and installs an enormous work– perhaps looming over the dining table, hunched in the bedroom corner, or under the entrance hall stairway– and for the whole two weeks, lives in the house with Sarah’s family.

So every month or so, a new work of art occupies the house, and always in quite an imposing fashion. Sarah doesn’t remove the artworks, so over the past couple years, her house has evolved, in a strangely organic way, bit by bit into what it is today. So what does the house’s sense of place feel like? How can there even be one if large parts of the interior are manipulated so frequently? I remember it feeling like I was in the house of a family who had a lot of pets. At every corner, Sarah would point to a nine-foot wooden calendar, or human-sized cat dressed in 19th century mining gear, introducing and telling a quick story about each thing.

When I finally got the chance to ask Sarah’s daughter whether she felt somewhat robbed of a sense of place, she insisted that she didn’t. She explained that she might come home from University and find that thirty grinning metal balls have crept their way up the staircase wall to her bedroom, but is never disappointed. The sense of place for her was very much defined by an element of surprise. I found this interesting because of all places, our homes seem like the one space in which we expect utter predictability. She insisted, however, that in fact, it was the house’s malleability that made it homey. The instability of her hallways, windows, and ceilings is what makes her comfortable; it’s what is predictable. I thought this was a gratifying sentiment– in the same way that the house has grown around her, she has grown up into it.

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The Comfort of Not Your Own Home

The Comfort of Not Your Own Home

Two members of the vernacular landscape that  interest me are the hotel and the restaurant. It seems that typically, the vernacular place holds a somewhat synergistic relationship with the people that occupy it, providing them with a ordinary space onto which they impose and exercise their own social values. The two components, landscape and human, grow together. Now, the hotel and the restaurant are special because their job is in a way, to reject this. It is their job to already understand the social values of the occupier, and pre-emptively construct an environment in which he can operate happily. Hotels and restaurants are special because they are places that act as stand-ins for your most intimate human processes– sleeping and eating. Usually, we are most happy and comfortable when conducting those important activities in the privacy of our homes. Thus, part of the job for hotels and restaurants are to bring out a sense of comfort, even familiarity in a person. A crucial step in this process is the conception of boundaries.

“The first step toward organizing a space is defining territory,” says Jackson. For a hotel, this is of the utmost importance. As guests, we don’t want to feel alienated in our rooms, but certainly want to know there exists a strong boundary between us and the hundreds of people crammed on every which side of us. The front door does a decent job at this, but the feeling of privacy extends beyond the physical in hotel life. Boundaries are developed in a number of ways; how often you hear a neighbor’s television through the wall, how many times you pass by people in the hallway, who is sitting in the dining hall when you go down for breakfast. It’s a hotel’s job to strike a balance between private and public, and in my opinion, to provide an environment with a similar sense of boundary to one’s home, but on a far larger scale.

Jackson explains that every landscape is a composition of spaces as well as boundaries. The restaurant is special in this context, because in a restaurant, the boundaries between you and other diners are created by nothing but space itself. Spaces just broad enough so one doesn’t pick up the details of an adjacent conversation, just broad enough so as not to hear every clink and slurp of the family nearby.

There are two types of boundaries according to “A Pair of Ideal Landscapes;” ones that “define a region,” acting as a “skin,” and ones that “isolate and protect a region,” acting as “packaging” or an “envelop.” The hotel and the restaurant are unique because they provide both, simultaneously. Two members of the vernacular landscape, placing you in a skin that brings out the familiarity of a bed or dining room, and also providing you with packaging; a moment of refuge, a bed or a warm meal to tuck into.

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Somewhere In Between

Somewhere In Between

“The town itself was secondary to the experience of the town,” writes Kunstler in The Geography of Nowhere, about his time spent in the suburbs as a child. This notion of ranking experience over physical space, the mental over the material, is something that I’m always giving thought to. I’m a very nostalgic person, and so it’s a way to dissect nostalgia, moving away from the look, smell, or sound of a place and focusing on exactly how a certain situation has made me feel. I’ll often try to come up with ways of expressing a very specific feeling that I’ve kept with me– maybe by humming, by drawing something on some paper, by reading something– it’s very difficult, so I usually just end up sitting still with my eyes closed. All day, I hyper-analyze how things are making me feel– the way a doorway looks, how the clutter on my desk is arranged, the sound a truck makes as it drives by outside my window. I haven’t read much of Maya Angelou’s work, but of course am always considering something she said about communication; that we don’t really remember people for what they’ve said, but how they’ve made us feel.

I’ve gone slightly off the rails here. The reason I brought this up is because I think that my experience of the suburbs is like Kunstler’s, but slightly warped. I’ve spent some fantastic summers in parts of Maine and Connecticut which probably don’t constitute suburbia, but might be close. Regardless, I’ve visited other suburbs, and for the most part, have had a great time. What is special to me about the suburbs, however, is that more intensely than any other residential scene, my image and experience of them is shaped by feeling, rather than appearance. And the feeling I associate with them is, above all else, quite uncanny. But, not just uncanny– I also get serious pleasure out of thinking about and being around the suburbs. I’m sure a a good part of how I feel about them comes from their depictions in popular movies, television, songs, and wherever else, but part of it certainly has to do with the nature of the suburb itself.

“Much of it occupies what was until recently rural land– destroying, incidentally, such age-old social arrangements as the distinction between city life and country life. To me, it is a landscape of scary places, the geography of nowhere, that has simply ceased to be a credible human habitat.”

I really empathize with this description from Kunstler. I like the sense of the suburbs as a “nowhere” place– sort of like a strange, post-war science experiment-zone where people moved to escape the stink of the city; a place very heavily associated with the ideal. The idea of somewhere that is the “distinction between city and country life” adds to this feeling; a suburb tries to balance the two lifestyles, striving to generate the utopian satisfaction that it advertises. To me, this atmosphere of impeccability opens up a world of suspicion, and makes way for fantasies of the perverse. In the same way that the suburb pushes the boundary between urban and rural, it also (as I think Jane Jacobs wrote) creates a lifestyle that is neither public nor private, but dangles somewhere in between. The way I see it, this sort of geographical void that it occupies challenges the notion of not only private and public, but also interior and exterior, and even the relationship between people and space. Perhaps it’s simply because I’ve never lived there, but the problems I have with fully deciphering the suburbs has developed them into a zone of fantasy for me, where the feeling of forthrightness, yet disassociation, keeps me interested.

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/ / A Sense of Place, Suburbia
Sidewalk Politics

Sidewalk Politics

Of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, I most enjoyed reading Jane Jacobs’ thoughts on sidewalks. The role of the sidewalk and the psychology surrounding it is something I give good thought to on a weekly basis. Jacobs seems to have made order out of most of the ideas I have on the subject.

Jacobs’ notion of the “eyes on the street” struck me immediately. We are so used to thinking of the sidewalk as the cold arena of the stranger; the dingy playground of the flaneur, that we often forget its obvious safety as a public space. “The first thing to understand is that the public peace…is not kept primarily by the police,” writes Jacobs, “it is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious, network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves.” On the sidewalk, external force such as the police is secondary to the goodness in human nature, which springs into action if given reason to.

Jacobs brings to light another notion about the sidewalk, this micro-habitat of tacit security, that I hadn’t properly acknowledged before. That is the idea of each sidewalk belonging to a street, acting as a kind of add-on; some type of sidekick. “The streets and their sidewalks,” explains Jacobs, “are [a city’s] most vital organs.” To return briefly to Kevin Lynch, I have always seen the space between the two paths as clearly separated by an edge– that edge, I suppose, being the curb– and as existing as two entirely different urban zones. Perhaps if I had really thought about the name “side-walk,” I would have made a full connection between the two, but until now, I hadn’t done so. It’s amazing to consider the psychological shift that occurs as a result of such thinking. I certainly will now see the sidewalk in a different light, knowing its place as a mere accessory to the glorious street!

The sidewalk’s relationship with its other neighbor, the building, is also fascinatingly presented by Jacobs. “To keep the city safe is the fundamental task of the city’s streets and its sidewalks,” she writes. Previously, I had only really seen it the building’s role to keep the people of the city safe, away from the perilous streets, as it does naturally by holding them in closed off quarters. Jacobs, however, “turns this idea around” (along side a few more). Among other arguments, she explains that many residential projects and environments are missing the “eyes” that watch over public places; an absence capable of turning supposed living space very quickly into “turf,” permeated with crime. Jacobs has also turned the tables on park life, suggesting that the primary element that keeps a park from becoming dull and dangerous are city streets and “the interest that they bring in the form of foot traffic.” I’ve found that The Death and Life of Great American Cities presents a strange and intriguingly bright world, in which the interior; the private– housing or perhaps an enclosed park–often represents danger, while the exterior; the public–the jam-packed city streets– security.

I’d like to get back to Jacobs’ notion of the “eyes” that make the sidewalk a “deterrent against crime.” I think, more than most people, I am very conscious of the people who walk by me in the street. Most of the time, I will take a good look at a passerby’s face and follow it for a second or two before arriving at the next one. I think there is depth to the role of the eye in the context of the sidewalk, even beyond what Jacobs discusses. She mentions the “surveillance” and sense of belonging naturally created by the crowd of the street, but what I find even more interesting is how that feeling of “surveillance” is constructed on a more intricate level. Perhaps, more than just a feeling of social cohesion through numbers, it is a network of eye contact, from stranger to stranger, that facilitates a feeling of security and connection? Or perhaps it is not the eyes on the street, but the sheer possibility of eyes in the windows above– inducing a panopticon-like assurance, born out of paranoia? Regardless of these ideas (although I’d like to explore them further), Jacobs is right in saying that “the safety of the street works best” where people are “least conscious that they are policing.” In these situations, the general public, as well as the “sidewalk guardians” (store keepers and business owners), are most likely to keep peace and order.

This portion of the book, regarding sidewalks, ends with a glimpse of Jacobs’ own neighborhood narrative– “the junior high school students…dropping candy wrappers,” “Joe Cornacchia’s son-in-law stacking out the empty crates from the delicatessen”– she draws out empathy, as well as our own local narratives, and ultimately constructs what to me, is a powerful argument.

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Reorientation

Reorientation

I initially struggled to choose a moment to write about regarding this topic. I read through the articles, watched the clips, and it finally struck me about a quarter of the way through the extract of “Einstein’s Dream.”

“Many walk with notebooks, to record what they have learned while it is briefly in their heads. For in this world, people have no memories.”

I was immediately taken back to the Hunan Road indoor flower market, where I was regularly sent by my mom to pick up Chrysanthemums and sometimes Peonies for the apartment. This market sold all types of flowers, but also, in lesser quantities, crickets. However, what made the market so memorable isn’t what it sold, but a peculiar day to day tendency. Each evening, the fifty or so vendors would pack up their stalls and go home, but each morning, when they returned, it would not be to the same space they occupied the day before. It was a scramble to find the most profitable, visible, comfortable, and whatever else-able spot to set up shop. So, when I wandered in every odd week, it would take me a moment to rejig my brain, or rather, remember that the best way to orient myself was, in fact, to not orient myself at all; to shed the memories of last week’s spaces.

Finding the man with the Chrysanthemums each time was doubly exciting because of this; the satisfaction I got from peeking around the right corner and spotting him was far greater than it would be anywhere else. Lightman wrote in “Einstein’s Dream” that “without memory, each night is the first night,” and “each morning is the first morning.” For me, discovering this vendor each time almost felt like finding him anew, because without fail, I would get the same rush of gratification once the search was over. “When you lose that kind of comfortable feeling of knowing your place,” says way-finding expert Colin Ellard, “everything kind of ‘pops’, and you experience the here-and-now much more immediately.” Ellard’s description is spot on– it was the sense of the “here-and-now” that excited me most. I had a task to complete and the obstacle of placelessness to overcome. “A world without memory is a world of the present,” writes Lightman later in the passage. Stepping into the market and looking around, being both familiar and unfamiliar with the scene, always produced a very strange moment. Almost like a relentless deja vu, I confided in what I recognized from the past, but also felt utterly “present.”

Inside the market, nearly all of the vendors sold crickets, but only about a quarter of them sold special ones. What I really mean by special, is ‘special sounding’; about ten or fifteen of the vendors imported their crickets from specific provinces– Zhejiang, Fuzhou, Hubei, and a handful of other regions. Not only were these crickets stronger– fit to defeat a simple Shanghai cricket in most street gambles– but they also chirped at resonances and frequencies that distinguished them from those hailing from the more popular provinces. The man I always went to for my mom’s flowers sold crickets from Fuzhou, and one afternoon, I asked him why it was that he always bought his crickets from the same place. He responded to my very basic Mandarin with very complex Mandarin, so, puzzled, I shrugged my shoulders and waited for whatever English he could muster. He paused, and then grinned–“you find me.”

In the weeks following, I learned to navigate the market more comfortably, paying close attention to the exotic chirps and the vendors they corresponded to. Eventually, I was able to tell just by listening what stall stood nearby or a few aisles over, and whether it was the one with my Chrysanthemums. Never since have I been able to orient myself by sound so dramatically– I often found myself closing my eyes, funnily enough, in order to focus more intently on the right direction to go in. I suppose it would be in that moment every time that my place cells would fire up– I would hear the right chirp and quickly orient myself in relation to it, and just as “The Nature of Things” explains that when we navigate we build a “bird’s eye view of our surroundings,” at that point I’d picture myself and my vendor from above, separated by several aisles of flowers.

While I became good at orienting myself in relation to the crickets, It was still nearly impossible to orient myself within the space of the warehouse. After enough trips, I could look up at the tin ceiling, the only thing in the market that didn’t change, and based on the pattern, try to gauge my general position. This seems like a way that my place cells would, as David Redish writes, “take the coordinate system and attach something to it.'” Just as we might “sit at the kitchen table in [our] childhood home” and “remember [our] favorite apple pie from thanksgivings past,” on occasion, I’d notice a particular beam or dent in the tarnished roof, and realize that I was standing in a spot that had previously accommodated the elusive Chrysanthemums.

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How we Direct Ourselves

How we Direct Ourselves

A thing is experienced “in relation to its surroundings,” says Kevin Lynch in “The Image of the City.” I drew a shoddy cognitive map of the area (or perhaps district) encompassing my mom’s house in London, and after comparing it with a real map, found Lynch’s assertion to be accurate.

Cognitive Map

The first thing I noticed upon completion was my choice to place my house so far to the left. If the point was to draw a map of the area surrounding the house, why put it so far left and not directly in the middle? After some thought, I realized I made the choice because on a typical day, most of what I do is in the East; I scarcely walk Westward. The egocentric spatial perception continues– I drew England’s Lane, the main street that is adjacent to my road, far broader and longer than it should be, and the point at which one would turn to get to my house, in the dead center of England’s Lane, when in reality, it is barely a third of the way along. Interestingly, however, I drew my road, Elizabeth Mews, on the smaller side– perhaps reflecting a homeliness and privacy that I associate with it.

Google Map

The small, frequently empty park, more of a run, to the left of my house is far thinner in reality than in my drawing. I’m confident that I drew it as I did because I throw a tennis ball for my dog there, who, being very small, has far more room to move around than a human.

Hardly a landmark, but I’ve drawn a restaurant where I like to eat at the very tip of England’s Lane, when in reality, it is only about two thirds of the way up. I fooled myself into thinking it was so far up because I rarely walk any farther up the road in that direction.

I inevitably drew Primrose Hill as the map’s looming giant, peeking its head out from the rest of the world; almost a center of gravity for everything else. I think this has something to do with how I think about the hill in real life. I always ascend and descend via that same corner I drew, and I rarely wander right up to any of the hill’s other edges. Also, when I imagine the hill’s place within my area, I always see it as cut off in some way or another– probably as coping mechanism for how large it is in relation to the mental landmarks I have nearby.

The clearest act of selfishness in my drawing lies in the straightness and perpendicularity of the different roads and paths. They do not line up so conveniently in real life, nor are they so similar in length. I also don’t know why I instinctively drew England’s lane as vertically as I did; it certainly doesn’t point North. I think the best explanation is that the paths we know of and walk along represent, to an extent, our sense of mobility within the city. Since we are used to taking certain routes, as I am used to these, we imagine them as relatively direct, orderly, and effortless connections between different nodes, landmarks, and whatever else.

I also see my drawing as a reflection of the emotional security I feel when thinking about my area. Lynch is certainly right, at least in my case, when he equates emotional security with a “harmonious relationship between [one]self and the outside world.”– for me, the harmonious relationship translated directly on to paper.

To finish, I think I’d like to take back my use of the phrase “real map” in reference to the digital (google) one. Clearly, way-finding is a very subjective experience– the city is “a thing perceived only in the course of long spans of time” and the way we move within and think about it is based largely on our own experiences.

So, I’d like to put forward the argument that our thoughts about how we move within the city are more significant to our experience than how we actually move. Why then, is a map displayed on a device any more ‘correct’ than my own judgement? Both are just representations, and my own thoughts about how I move are often closer to reality than the structures built for me by a digital map.

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