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


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

Essential Readings in Urban Planning

Planning on taking the AICP* Exam? Register for Planetizen's AICP * Exam Preparation Course to save $25.
Wood necklace with city map

City Necklaces

These sweet pendants are engraved on a cedar charm with a mini map of selected cities. The perfect gift for friends and family or yourself!
Planetizen Courses image ad

Planetizen Courses

Advance your career with subscription-based online courses tailored to the urban planning professional.
Starting at $16.95 a month