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.
March 26, 2006, 11am PST | Chris Steins | @urbaninsight
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"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."

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Published on Sunday, March 26, 2006 in Terrain: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments
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