Heads Up: Using Cognitive Mapping to Develop a Baseline Description for Urban Visualization

 Kevin Lynch’s work on urban legibility has taken on new importance as the delivery of information about cities has shifted largely to mobile computing devices. This study extends his work with the aim of quantifying the number and type of elements that constitute a competent cognitive map of a city. We conducted a user study of 109 student sketch maps of Chicago that test the frequency and nature of the elements identified by Lynch (path, edge, district, node and landmark), their interrelationship and the effect of gender, prior experience and scale. We find that (1) participants identify two distinct urban scales, one at the neighborhood level and the other citywide, (2) competent cognitive maps involve relatively small numbers of elements: 15 (+/-7), (3) the selection of elements for the sketch map may include any of the elements identified by Lynch, but the frequency of landmarks and districts is negatively correlated, (4) participants recall significantly more districts and nodes at the citywide level, and (5) in addition to Lynch’s identification of physical landmarks, participants also identify landmarks by function; such functional landmarks are more frequent at the neighborhood level. 

 

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