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Thread: Help with thesis: Memory and Urbanism

  1. #1
    May 2012
    United Kingdom

    Help with thesis: Memory and Urbanism

    I was wondering if anyone would be willing to give me some feedback. I am currently doing a 12 month Masters in Architecture. I am basing my thesis on Memory, how cities were arranged in influenced by Mnemonic and the Art of memory.

    I tried to apply this to contemporary cities by finding ways I could measure a cities "memorability" by reading texts and deducting determining factors (landmarks, scale etc) however I came to a dead-end when I realized (it was suggested to me by my tutors) that this is all very subjective and cannot be quantitively analyzed.

    I am not really interested in "collective memory" of a city also as it is not what I set out to study.

    I have now decided to look at the transition of Memory as Analogue in cities to Memory as Digital (digital networks, gps, online libraries etc.) And thought of looking at Depfort in London as a case study. (they had a free wifi project going on)

    But I am unsure how to progress and I am probably having a mental block. I was looking for some feedback as to whether this topic is overdone/cliched or hard to actually investigate and produce reliable data for. Or any comments or ideas that would point me in the right (or a) direction.

    I really appreciate any feedback you might have!


  2. #2
    Nov 2009
    Somewhere far, far away
    I don't have an answer for you, but I am disturbed by others (apparently) telling you that only things that can be studied quantitatively are worthy of study. Not everything can be quantified. In the US, most of the social sciences have moved toward a fuller appreciation for and integration of qualitative methods into research designs. It is regrettable that there are still people who think that only quantitative research matters. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

  3. #3
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
    Mar 1996
    Upstate New York
    Blog entries
    One way to approach this might be crowdsourced mapping. An example: what the City of Buffalo considers "official" neighborhoods and the names are real estate agents give various parts of town (seen on Google Maps) are usually much different than what current and former residents call them. Basically, neighborhood names and boundaries are much different in the eyes of the city, local board of real estate agents, and residents.

    The Common Census project is an excellent example of crowdsourced mapping; maps based on memory and perception rather than official sources.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  4. #4
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
    May 2005
    New Town
    I am intrigued by this topic, but I have to admit that I am unclear about what you mean by the transition from Analogue to Digital Memory and how this might be manifested at the city scale. Can you provide a more specific example of what it is you are meaning by this? I like Dan's example quite a bit and it also makes me think about the large bicycle route mapping project Boston initiated a few years ago. It is also an open-source mapping process where riders can go in and log the routes they have forged to get around the city. This and the example of neighborhood mapping get at issues of how local knowledge and mapping of place get formalized (and perhaps how crowdsourcing or similar strategies create additional voices and forces in this process) but I am not clear if this is really what you are after.

    My Professional Project (in Planning) was about memory and place. It was a proposal for how to develop a trail system along some old irrigation canals using poetry and public history to "write" on the landscape in ways that are distinct from the bronze plaque. For example, a bridge crossing a ditch in which are etched the words (in Spanish and English) of traditional San Isidro Day blessings. San Isidro is the Patron Saint of farming and he is exalted every year when the ditches first begin running water. The bridge was adjacent to a church that runs such an event, so it told of that story all year long but really came to life the day the church has the event and parades residents and statue of the saint (bulto) along the ditches, crossing the bridge as part of the route. My goal was finding a way to connect users of the system with local history and a sense of time depth.

    Not what you are after, I realize, but just to say why this topic interests me.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  5. #5
    Mar 2008
    London, England
    This is an interesting topic. My Master's thesis/dissertation looked at memory in the built environment. Based in the UK, I focused on the murals in Northern Ireland and how memory is incorporated into urban policy issues.

    I don't think this is completely relevant to your interests in "digital" memory, however London is surely a good case study. Living in London I'm familiar with some issues locally. Let me know if I can help further... and good luck with your research.

  6. #6
    I might be a little late in responding, but the idea of memory immediately brought to my mind Kevin Lynch's "The Image of the City," in which he asked residents of a few US cities to draw mental maps of where they live. It's an interesting way to approach the idea of how we perceive and remember our surroundings. Basically, instead of studying "memorability" as you mention, Lynch coined the term "imageability."


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