Thursday, 26 May 2011

San Francisco Mental Maps

A team of students from Berkley has taken on the project of mental mapping San Francisco. It has turned in to a really interesting piece of research about how people see the city and how they imagine the city.

Using Mental Maps is nothing new it goes way back to Lynch and Gould and White, but it has not been used for a while and in combination with digital tools it could have a sort of revival. The great aspect on this project 'Visualizing Mental Maps of San Francisco' by Rachelle Annechino and Yo-Shang Cheng is how they allow room for the method to breath the uncertainty of its nature. Mental Mapping is not about accuracy and precision, or truth and objectivity and to combine this with GIS or mapmaking is a very difficult task for not to say impossible.

San Francisco - Corridors
Image taken from Visualizing Mental Maps of SF / San Francisco’s Deadzones and Corridors is a map depicting both where the city’s “corridors” or main drags are, the neighborhood names associated with them and a measure of “neighborhood-ness” throughout the city (the residential density metric). The map has three layers: a choropleth (heatmap) of residential density in red tones, areas zoned for commercial activity in blue and street segments with verified commercial activity in yellow..

The essential thing is to give the playfulness a meaning and find a balance for mapping it in GIS. With this project it is not achieved in the detail, but in the overal construction, how the different sections combine and the picture the presented result paints.

"I think of San Francisco as being a bunch of main streets in small towns, all smushed next to each other."

The project is the team's final master project at the School of Information at University of California in Berkley. The link to the final project presentation can be found HERE and the very detailed report is HERE.

The findings are presented in seven groups and you would probably expect more Kevin Lynch influence, but they firmly hold up their own topics. Which is great, it's over fifty years in between, but still from a urban planning perspective the five groups defined by lynch should at least have been challenged.

Their topics are Orientation: Which way is North? It doesn't always have to be at the top of the page. Re-orient or dis-orient yourself in San Francisco. Corridors: Where are the hearts of each neighborhood? Barriers: Is it really that close? It's not always as simple as it looks getting from one neighborhood to another in San Francisco. Boundaries: What neighborhood are you in? According to whom? Storymaps: Take a tour of the city, guided by the thoughts of locals. Game: Ready, set, go. Invisible bike race! Gallery: Draw a map or a picture of your neighborhood, however you see the space.

San Francisco - Boundaries
Image taken from Visualizing Mental Maps of SF / Visualising Neighbourhood areas from different sources. Some of the boundaries are firm and bold, where as other can be fuzzy and blurred.

The different topics each address an aspect and the project combines the data collected through participants with additional information such as landuse and density as for the Corridors, but also with various sources such as Wikipedia, Zillow and Craglist for the Boundaries. This creates an interesting mix that manages to minimise the burden usually put on the Mental Maps in terms of expectations. They play a lot better in combination. Especially the sequence on boundaries and the changes over time on Wikipedia is really an interesting aspect of the boundary definition and naming discussion.

San Francisco - Sketches
Image taken from Visualizing Mental Maps of SF / A Mental Map sketch by Victoria F., one of the participants of the study. She has been living in San Francisco for 23 years.

There is a lot about the city that has be pulled out using somehow unconventional combinations of techniques and it offers great access to 'local' knowledge of the place.

Via Roomthily


Yo-Shang Cheng said...

As half of the team behind the project, I really appreciate your thoughtful write up about it!

fan said...

Glad you like it. Its great work really interesting. Wil you continue in this area?