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Thread: Mental or cognitive mapping

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    Cyburbian ICT/316's avatar
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    Mental or cognitive mapping

    What are some of your thoughts on the subject, “ Cognitive or Mental mapping”? I know most of you are familiar with is. This idea is when an individual composes in their head a “mental” map of their familiar environment. It’s their own perception of the city or urban environment. A collection of routine life such as work, school, shopping, church, entertainment, relatives homes, neighborhoods (familiar or not), roads, highways, government institution , etc. that help form one’s perception of their “idea” of the city surrounding them.
    Cognitive mapping is not like actual physical maps as they are not usually precise and correct. A person’s cognitive map will not be to scale, have direction correct and often leave out massive amounts of physical or important features of an given urban area.
    This cognitive mapping is also based on one’s daily observation and the daily travels of the person in question. Their own mobility often dictates their overall perception of the city. Their socioeconomic status and crime issues are also a major factor. A poor inner city person with very limited means of transportation and that may be unemployed will surely have a different view of the overall city than a upper middle class person in the suburbs, who may travel larger area’s of the city due to a number of factors. Let be noted that both may have little or no known perception of their other’s “neighborhood”.
    A lot of people when asked to draw a detailed “map” of their city will do so based on these idea’s. They often draw in detail or relative detail the places and things they are most familiar with.
    I know you all know someone when asked or forced to defiant from their daily route they become “lost”, lose all sense of direction and basically panic. They have no “real” perception of the city and are only using their “Cognitive or Mental map”! What do you have to say about this subject?

    Bill

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    That's interesting. I definitely use landmarks to help me find my way, but that often doesn't translate well when I'm trying to give someone else directions. In that case I'll go to Google Maps or a similar site to get the "turn-by-turn" instructions and a map.

    You make a good point about socioeconomic status. I have a friend raised in a working-class family who has traveled out of the region only a handful of times in her life. As a result she is what I'd call "geographically challenged." She has a hard time with directions, gets lost easily if she's driving on her own, and often gives me a blank look when I mention places I've visited for business or pleasure. Without the necessity of reading maps, she hasn't picked up the knowledge of places outside her limited regional perspective.

    When I was younger, I lived part-time with relatives in New York City. We didn't have a car; I took public transportation everywhere. On the few occasions when someone gave me a ride home, I had absolutely no idea how to get there. I could picture my bus or train route, but I didn't know any of the highway routes to go from Manhattan or Westchester County to the Bronx.

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    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    I once got to do a mental map study with kindergarteners. It was a great experience, once we got them on track that is. We had them put their home on the paper and the school and then try to draw their town around that. It was amazing how some kids knew nothing about certain parts of the town but others did. Kids who say went to church in town or had a mom or dad that worked in town put certain locations around that. Kids who walked to school also had higher detail to their maps than those who were bound to car seats or the school bus.
    @GigCityPlanner

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    Cyburbian
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    We have used this type of thing for charettes, it is a great tool to use to identify the areas of the community people care about. I have also done it with kids during a school project. Kids give you a whole new perspective on what is important to them and the barriers that they see as they move about their communities.

    This is also a great way to involve communities, particularly school age children in part of a world planning or GIS day.

  5. #5
    Read Kevin Lynch's A Theory of Good City Form. While it is old now, it certainly is the seminal work in this area.

    Here's my favorite quote from the book: "We are so frightened at being left out at the edge of something that it is now proper to call almost any new establishment a "center". Thus we hear of medical centers, service centers, learning centers, and building supply centers. If not a center, then any new thing will probably be called a "complex", since integrated complexity also fascinates us. The third metaphor for a good place is expressed by the words garden, estate or park. A garden center complex is very desirable."

    On pitching to Stan Musial:
    "Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy."
    Warren Spahn

  6. #6
          bluehour's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker View post
    Read Kevin Lynch's A Theory of Good City Form. While it is old now, it certainly is the seminal work in this area.

    Here's my favorite quote from the book: "We are so frightened at being left out at the edge of something that it is now proper to call almost any new establishment a "center". Thus we hear of medical centers, service centers, learning centers, and building supply centers. If not a center, then any new thing will probably be called a "complex", since integrated complexity also fascinates us. The third metaphor for a good place is expressed by the words garden, estate or park. A garden center complex is very desirable."

    And I had my copy of Lynch out and was going to quote from the book but you stole my thunder...

    Really interesting stuff. Is effective in identifying the fact that humans use space very differently from each other.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    I have thought on and off about this over the years, long before I became interested in pursuing a career in planning. I kind of wonder sometimes how one can analyze this subjective experience in some objective way or "meta study" and from there develop ways to solve problems at the human scale so the city as a whole works better. But I have no idea how that would be done and am not sure I am even saying it well enough to get across what I mean.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I have found cognitive mapping very effective at unearthing the places within a community that are valued or otherwise standout as significant (which could, of course, be an unwanted land use as much as a "sacred place"). Using this information to then establish better connections among those places (pedestrian linkages, signage, visual motifs, etc.) as well as the creation of formalized gathering spots to enhance the function of these spaces can work really well as I have witnessed. Scale and distance doesn't really matter so much once you know the places people value (or hate).

    Kevin Lynch rocks, IMHO, and I continue to use his ideas in my work. I especially love "What Time is This Place?" I also go back to Christopher Alexander's "Pattern Language" alot - another oldie but goodie.

    In addition to socio-economics impacting the perception of space (I have mostly worked with lower income residents), I wonder the degree to which the landscape itself effects one's ability to navigate. I now live in Albuquerque where you can see a very far way and one always knows that the river is west and the mountains are east (and you can see one or both from many locations within the city). I grew up in Pennsylvania, though, where heavy tree cover and winding roads can really turn you around. In fact, I had a very poor sense of direction and an almost total inability to orient myself to the cardinal directions before I moved west. Has anyone else had this experience?
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Heh.. I remember doing one for human geography in my freshman year.... It's quite an interesting topic. Although my map was quite poor since I had just arrived a few months before... I think I got a decent grade though.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian MM1648's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post

    Kevin Lynch rocks, IMHO, and I continue to use his ideas in my work. I especially love "What Time is This Place?" I also go back to Christopher Alexander's "Pattern Language" alot - another oldie but goodie.

    In addition to socio-economics impacting the perception of space (I have mostly worked with lower income residents), I wonder the degree to which the landscape itself effects one's ability to navigate. I now live in Albuquerque where you can see a very far way and one always knows that the river is west and the mountains are east (and you can see one or both from many locations within the city). I grew up in Pennsylvania, though, where heavy tree cover and winding roads can really turn you around. In fact, I had a very poor sense of direction and an almost total inability to orient myself to the cardinal directions before I moved west. Has anyone else had this experience?

    I've had the same experience. I grew up in a region that was all grid. There is no such thing as winding roads down in South south Texas. When I moved to college, it took some time to adjust. The town has some winding roads, more tree coverage, and to add to all that, the town is off at an angle (NE). Back at my hometown, streets run north/south and east/west; plain and simple.
    Today's classic was yesterday's innovation. -Landry

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