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The City Image and Its Elements by Kevin Lynch

Kevin Lynch was an American urban planner and author. He is known for his work on the perceptual form of urban environments and was an early proponent of mental mapping. I will summarize a part of one of his books which named as ‘The Image of The City’.

According to the book, he stated that there is a public image of any given city that is composed by overlapping many individual images and also each individual image is unique. He classified the contents of the city images into five types of elements which are paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks.



Paths are the channels which the observer moves. They can be streets, walkways, transit lines, canals and railroads. Other than the definition of paths, he introduced some different features of the paths such as;

  • Particular paths may become important features in a number of ways such as customary travel.
  • Concentration of special use or activity along a street may give it prominence for the observers.
  • Specific spatial qualities were able to strengthen the image of particular paths.
  • Special facade characteristics are important for path identity.
  • Proximity to special of the city could also endow a path with increased importance.
  • Paths with clear and well-known origins and destinations had stronger identities.


Edges are the boundaries between two phases, linear breaks in continuity. For instance shores, railroad cuts, edges of development and walls. There are different types of edges such as;

Fragmentary Edges: In the abstract continuous but only visualized edges in discrete points.

Overhead Edges: Elevated railways of Jersey City and Boston.

Visible Edge: Lake Michigan in Chicago.


Districts are large city areas which observer can mentally go inside of. The physical characteristics that determine districts are; texture, space, form, detail, symbol, building type, use, activity, inhabitants, degree of maintenance, topography. Districts have different kinds of boundaries such as hard, definite and precise. Edges may augment the tendency of districts to fragment the city in a disorganizing way. Some districts are single, standing along their zone and others are connected to each other.


Nodes are the strategic foci into which the observer can enter either junctions of paths or concentrations of some characteristic.  The strategic junction nodes can be the subway stations, strung along their invisible path systems and major railroad stations. Also, the nodes can be introverted or extroverted. The example was an Italian node which is the Piazza San Marco. It was highly differentiated, rich, and intricate; sharply contrast to the general character of the city.


Landmarks are the point references which are external to the observer and simple physical elements vary in scale. Figure background contrast relationship is the principal factor. Subjects may single out landmarks for their cleanliness in a dirt city or newness in an old city. Location at a junction involving path decisions strengthens a landmark.

An example of a distant landmark is the Duomo of Florence because it is visible from near and far, by day or night, it is dominant by size and contour and lastly it is relate to city’s tradition. Spatial prominence can establish landmarks in two ways;

  • Making element visible from many locations.
  • Setting up local contrast with nearby elements.



None of these elements are isolated from each other in the real case. Districts are structured with nodes, defined by edges, penetrated by paths and sprinkled with landmarks. These elements are the raw material of the environmental image at the city scale. The must be patterned together to provide satisfying form. Such pairs may reinforce, resonate or enhance others power; or they may conflict and destroy themselves.


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