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Quality of life -- Measurement, City and town life -- Oregon -- Portland -- Attitudes, Urban ecology (Sociology), Cognitive maps (Psychology)

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21 pages


People relate to the perceptual quality of any urban environment physically, mentally, and emotionally. Often, there are interactions that are based on visual images that occur between the individual and the city. The processing of these images - colors, shapes, sizes, spaces and motions - produces a composite picture of the city that gets translated into a "cognitive map." This aids each of us in adapting to and navigating through the multitude of urban elements.

By investigating the visual qualities of Portland, as seen through the mental images of some of its citizens, we have identified various elements that comprise the "legibility" of the city and the relative ease with which its parts can be recognized and organized into a coherent pattern (p 2-3). Kevin Lynch, who did similar studies of Boston, Los Angeles and Jersey City and whose model we used defines legibility as "the apparent clarity of the cityscape" (p. 2) and states that it is the crucial element in the urban setting (p. 3). Features such as landmarks, pathways, distinct districts and strategic points are all important in developing a pattern that results in a cognitive map. The legibility of such a map depends on the identity, structure and meaning that each of these elements produce.

Another important component in developing a cognitive map is the imageability that various elements possess which define the urban environment. Imageability can be thought of as "that generally in a physical object which gives it a high probability of evoking a strong image in any given observer." (p. 9) This includes anything which facilitates an object's identification, definition and vividness - color, shape or arrangement. The totality of these separate elements and features is useful for investigating the overall visual image of Portland. Building a composite image of the city, one that ties its parts and structure into a complete and coherent pattern, is the purpose of our investigation.


Catalog Number PR017.

A product of the Center for Urban Studies, College of Urban and Public Affairs, Portland State University.

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