A week of our cities
Not a Yelp map. Nope.
Here is one of those weeks where we didn’t track any daily activity: we rather reflected upon an experience and retrieve data about it later.
Since we are expats… we decided to tell each other our relationship with our cities, in data.
Oh gosh, so hard!
I started by listing the places I feel at home at here in New York, the places that meant something important, and I added some dates to locate them in my mental timeline of the last year, and I started pointing them on the map.
(For the record - I've been changing cities quite often, I always and every time had the sensation that real life was elsewhere, that I was kind of trapped in a place that was just not right. Finally, and after changing 4 cities and 9 apartments, in 2012 I found New York.)
BUT NO. I didn’t want to do a perfect geographic map of my favorite venues: there is Yelp for it, or other kind of ways. I wanted Stefanie to know my perception of the city, my image of the city.
And here one of my favorite books from the past makes its entry: Kevin Lynch's “The Image of the City"
In this book, Lynch elaborates on how people can orient themselves in urban environments by means of mental images: maps that are produced in our brains by combining immediate sensations and the memories of our past experience with that city or that area.
In the book, he compares three American cities (Boston, Jersey City, and Los Angeles) and looks at how people orient themselves in these cities: he asks several participants to create a map of their cities as follows: “Make it just as if you were making a rapid description of the city to a stranger, covering all the main features. We don’t expect an accurate drawing- just a rough sketch.”
Lynch was interested in understanding how a city is easily “imageable”, which is a term he invented to indicate how well a place can be taken in, mentally mapped, experienced; and “legible”: where legibility means the extend to which the cityscape can be ‘read’.
Lynch proposes that these mental maps consist of five elements:
(1) paths: routes along which people move throughout the city;
(2) edges: boundaries and breaks in continuity;
(3) districts: areas characterized by common characteristics;
(4) nodes: strategic focus points for orientation like squares and junctions;
(5) landmarks: external points of orientation, usually a easily identifyable physical object in the urban landscape.
Of these five elements, paths are especially important according Lynch, since these organize urban mobility.
The image of my city
Long story short: I wanted to draw my image of my city to Stefanie.
I went through his writings again, I wrote his main points in my Dear Data notebook, to process them in my own personal way; I spent some time looking at the examples he makes in the book and then I started to see my city in a totally different way for the first time: no perfect map below my favorite places, just my perception of the ways I go about walking in New York every day, with the mundane little encounters and memories.
The funny thing is that I wasn’t in New York while drawing this postcard, I was at my parents’ in Italy: what better way to really “imagine” my city in my mind!
I start drawing a sketch map of my city without looking at any map, and placing geographic details as if I would have to describe them to a stranger (or to Stefanie, of course!).
I drew an imaginary daily trip: illustrating the sequences of events I would see, hear, and smell; selecting the most distinctive elements I could remember and recall.
I walk the Williamsburg bridge every morning from home to work and, since when Stefanie was here in New York we walked the bridge together, I decided to use the usual pink-muji-pen I always employ to indicate something related to Dear Data, to draw the path we covered together, as a reference for her to get around my postcard.
The result is for sure not accurate - oh no way, the distances are completely distorted, but I am incredibly satisfied that I got to sit down and do this exercise, as an homage to one of my favorite books and as a inner reflection on my relationship with the place I live in.
The interrelation we have with the places we inhabit has always been one of my preferred topics to talk about (I am an architect as a background after all!).
I talk about New York and the multiple ways I feel I belong here all the times actually :) and after this week I feel I have even something more to say!
I love London, actually, if I had to move out of New York (which actually is not an option) the only other city I would live in would be London.
By looking at Stefanie’s postcard I was eager to know if I was familiar with any of the places she indicated…and I am wondering about her relationship with them: I am picturing her 12 (12!) years in London: what a stratified map of her city she will probably have in her mind!
I have never lived so long in any cities in my adulthood, I am fascinated by how many experiences she must have had!
Stef - I have to come to London soon.
We decided to create a survey of each of our cities, explaining to the other what ‘our’ London or New York was like.
I wasn’t sure what sort of data to gather for this: I don’t exactly have pubs or restaurants that I frequent regularly… I tend to float around the city, going wherever there is something interesting happening, as opposed to having anywhere that is a perpetual favourite (except for Nour Cash & Carry in Brixton Market, which is the best shop in the world)
And many of these locations have an impermanence to them: I’ve lived in London for over 12 years now, and it’s hard for me to really pinpoint all of the places that are important to me in this city, mainly because I’ve been living here long enough that London has started to change: clubs shut down, restaurants and pubs have disappeared, blocks of buildings have been knocked down and turned into flats (that age-old story)... Coming from a smaller city like Denver, I am often taken aback at how quickly things change in a metropolis.
Regardless, for this week, I thought that I would tell the story of ‘my’ London: that is, highlight important moments in my life through their location in this city, showing where I’ve worked, lived, studied, and so on.
My main focus of how I shaped the data and the drawing for this card was to show how local my memories are in London: they are mainly centred around Brixton and Herne Hill, two communities next to each other in South London. While I’ve lived very briefly in East London (which is where as a designer/creative I’m obligated to go live in because everyone knows that artists are supposed to live East because it’s trendy), I had a terrible houseshare experience there and ended up moving to South London 12 years ago to be nearer a friend, arriving at a ramshackle houseshare off Railton Road in Brixton and feeling like I was in the right place.
And currently, I couldn’t ask for a better place to be in this city: every morning during the week, I walk out of my house in Herne Hill and make my way up to Brixton via Railton Road, effectively walking by daily reminders of my past.
I walk near to the open swimming pool that in previous times held all-night raves, and was where my husband and I first got together, then near the aforementioned Brixton houseshare where I first met my husband and some of my closest friends, and next, past the curious off-license where my housemates and I used to walk on hot summer days to buy single cans of beer because we were always skint (the shop has been converted into flats), past locations of previous pubs and erased clubs (now shops), past Brixton Market, past Brixton Recreation Centre and its memories of the parties with massive dub soundsystems that would make the Rec’s windows shake and reverberate, and then across the street to my studio.
And because I come from such a new city like Denver, I’m amazed at all the layered community memories I walk by on just one long street: past the first market street to be lit with electricity in the late 1800s (Electric Avenue), past old storefronts that used to be squatted by various activist groups (again, now flats), past previously-squatted houses turned housing co-ops (some still there, some sadly evicted by the council), past the scenes of the Brixton riots in the 80s, past locations of street-based squat parties in the 90s, and then past the contemporary memories, like the location of the annual summer street parties that are held in Brixton.
I don’t understand why I had to travel over an ocean and to another continent to find a place where I truly felt at home and felt proud to be part of a community, but there it is. I’ve lived in my area of London almost as long as I lived in Denver when I was growing up, and I can’t quite believe that soon this random location in a city across the world will be the place I’ve called home for the longest.
I created a stylised map of London, mapping out memorable locations as best I could by eye.
I decided to work with collage again here, though I did a slightly hamfisted job of it so you can see lots of glue-y smudges all across the card… oh, well, that adds to the authenticity, right? As mentioned last week, I’ve been having trouble with how coloured markers on different coloured papers mean that it’s difficult to differentiate between different colours, so I’m not sure how best to work with coloured paper, though I do like using it.
Hooray! An Italian Stamp!
I am amazed that Giorgia started this drawing by plotting her house and drawing the rest around it, as it feels so detailed and precisely-made, with no mistakes. I am feeling slightly imprecise and clumsy with my pencil drawings at the moment! Maybe I need to try to work with pens again...
I also like that Giorgia added in locations where I’ve been, as when I walked with her to her workplace I knew we went over Williamsburg bridge, and then, well, I was lost in a New York that I didn’t know at all. This map has helped me refine the memories of my recent trip to New York.
And I think what I like the best is that both Giorgia and I live our city-centred lives along a linear route: while hers is the Williamsburg Bridge, mine is Railton Road, the long street I walk up to work that connects Herne Hill to Brixton.