Drawing the city

Last summer I spent some time working with Frank Bentley at Motorola Mobility in Chicago. Our quest: finding out how people view their cities. In the 60’s and 70’s researchers such as Milgram and Lynch already showed that people’s mental maps of cities differ from – and go beyond – the actual physical layout of cities.We decided to revisit some of their classic methods in our Drawing the City project. As a first study, over 80 people drew us a map of ‘their Chicago’, and gave us an insight in their perceptions of the different city neighborhoods. The first note on the study’s results will be presented at CHI’12 in the spring.

A preview: while tourists tended to focus on visual highlights, residents were much more focused on drawing neighborhoods, streets, or transit routes. When asked directly, public transport was reported as the most essential feature of the city by a quarter of the participants, but interestingly, almost never included in their map of ‘their Chicago’. Parks and arts were the most common elements represented in both resident and tourist maps, with relatively few nightlife and food-related places drawn. More, including perceptions of ‘dangerous’ neighborhoods and correlations with modes of transport and technology use, in: Frank Bentley, Henriette Cramer, Santosh Basapur, William Hamilton. Drawing the city: differing perceptions of the urban environment. Proc. CHI’12, Austin, Texas.

During the coming weeks we’ll be following up with a second edition of the study, this time in Stockholm.

Project updates: drawingthecity.com