Experiential Layers Of The City

We usually look at familiar urban places as our habits dictate, rarely changing from our default viewpoint. This narrowed perspective limits our effectiveness as designers and planners, writes Bruce F. Donnelly.

"There are, of course, many different experiential layers to urban experience. However, three essential layers, in an effective order, are:

* Beauty
* Stories
* Representation.

Once we learn to pay attention, we can combine the layers with the circumstances of a particular situation to decide, say, whether the beauty of a place and the stories of its lives mesh. Through reverse-engineering successes and failures, then, we can better understand success and failure, and therefore move more knowledgably and elegantly through the city.


Part of reverse-engineering success and failure is to find information that's not apparent on the groundâ€"demographics, business ownership, unit costs, and so on. In this case, the planner’s blindnessâ€"not to such circumstances, but to the North End’s beauties, stories, and the way it represented itselfâ€"made him blind to the place’s worth.

If we are to avoid being quite so insensitive to cities, we must attend not just to statistics, and not just to our personal preferences, but also to the levels of experience that help make them good or bad. It means that we must open ourselves to places’ beauties, and take note of their absences, too. It means that we must pay attention to the ways that people use spaceâ€"to their everyday stories."

Full Story: Experiential Layers Of The City


building block set

NEW! Build the world you want to see

Irresistible block set for adults when placed on a coffee table or desk, and great fun for kids.

Prepare for the AICP* Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $245
T-shirt with map of Chicago

Show your city pride

Men's Ultrasoft CityFabric© tees. Six cities available.
AICP CTP Storefont Display

The first online AICP* CTP exam prep class

Are you ready to take the AICP* Certified Transportation Planner exam?
Priced at $245 for May exam!