City legibility and ambient informatics

Reading "City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn" (William J. Mitchell) during the holidays, I ran across that quote:

"we are beginning to know and use cities in new ways. Long ago, the urban theorist Kevin Lynch pointed out the fundamental relationship between human cognition and urban form - the importance of the learned mental maps that knowledgeable locals carry about inside their skulls. These mental maps, together with the landmarks and edges that provide orientation within the urban fabric, are what make a city seem familiar and comprehensible. But for us artificially intelligent cyborgs, the ability to navigate through the streets and gain access to city resources isn't all in our heads. Increasingly we rely on our electronic extensions - smart vehicles and hand-held devices, together with the invisible landmarks provided by electronic positioning - to orient us in the urban fabric, to capture and process knowledge of our surroundings, and to get us where we want to go."

Why do I blog this? Except the "cyborg/intelligent" rhetoric that I don't parse and acknowledge, that quote is quite interesting and it echoes with recent readings such as what Greenfield and Shepard describes in "Urban Computing and Its Discontents" or the work of Anthony Townsend that I mentioned the other day. This is interesting as I am interested in how urban computing (will) affect cities, especially how location-aware applications or networked objects would change city life (the "user experience" of city sounds pretty lame here).

The link between Lynch's work about the legibility of cities and urban computing is of great interest to me as it resonates with my background in cognitive sciences. To some extent, it boils down to this simple question: "how people take decisions about what they do in an urban environment?": how do people navigate through streets and avenues, how do they choose specific points of interest, how do they change their path, etc. Kevin Lynch provided some answers about this, showing how mental representation of space is built based on urban elements such as paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks. For instance, he showed how specific angles of elements in a city allow for easier way-finding, or how people position their head and body in relation to their environment in navigation determine their navigation. The reason why this is interesting is that Lynch's work is a bit less mentalist as the dominant model in cognitive sciences: people's decision can be based both on mental representation (very cognitive) AND situated elements of space (less cognitive). On top of that, you can add the fact that mental maps can be built upon situated elements...

Anyway, back to Mitchell's quote, electronic flows of information and representation can modify and affect the decision process I just described. However, I am still missing elements about this, more detailed accounts of the interlinkages between cognition/urban forms and urban computing.