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Feflective Essay for HSS8120

The image of Madrid as a people’s mental map

This essay explains the module project that this author has been working on. It starts with an introduction about the creative process of the project, focusing primarily there on the literature review. Subsequently is a description of the study case undertaken. The conclusion represents an exposition of module learning outcomes.


Diverse content has been presented for the ‘Creative Digital Practice and Transdisciplinary Theory’ module. Therefore, there were many possible options available for approaching the ‘project work’ of this module. Thus, due to the novelty of every topic, this was a main concern for this author. However, since one of the earliest sessions discussed mapping, this work field was chosen due to a previous research project conducted where the author studied the use of Google Street View for creative projects. Furthermore, said author was keen –at an early stage- to work with Processing, since this would improve her design skills. Hence, it was decided that the ‘Project work’ will involve mapping and Processing.

Everything started when we were asked to read The Map is the Territory by Siergert[1] for the mapping session. I was fascinated by the perspective of ‘Cultural Studies and Cultural Technologies and Techniques’ about maps: maps have more information about who produced them rather than about the territory. This means the map provides more information about “the way it is observed and described” (Siergert, 2011). After reading the aforementioned reference, I discovered other perceptions of maps that were novel and interesting to me. Shortly thereafter, I connected this idea with one that Kevin Lynch developed in his research The Image of a City[2], which is about the image of a city as ‘being perceived by its inhabitants’ (1960, p.3). Linking both ideas, led me to think about the role of the citizens as the creators of maps of their own cities. According to Lynch (1960), there are two active roles in the creation of ‘environmental images’. The first role is played by the `environment’ providing ‘distinctions and relations’ and the second role is played by a person who observes such an ‘environment’, because they ‘select, organizes, and endows with meaning what he sees’ (p. 9). Therefore, the role that the citizen plays in the creation of maps made sense to me, because ultimately, maps are actually created by people for people. In fact, this is the foundation of my case study, explained in depth later. In the case study, a sample of a few persons were asked to draw the map of Madrid. One of the instructions given was to draw thinking that this map would be a guide for a stranger who does not know the city. In addition to these concepts, Julian Oliver[3] talks about ‘the maps of feelings and memories as the best way to describe the world’. He posits that maps are a limited source of information whereas the description of places can offer preciseness.

In his work, Lynch (1960, p.41- 90) explores the meaning that people have about the form of the city and tries to extract from it the image of three specific cities, Los Angeles, Boston and Jersey City. One of the main findings of his study is the list of elements that citizens use to build up their mental image of the city. These elements are:

- Paths: they are ways that the citizen usually or occasionally takes to commute through the city. These include streets, railroads, canals, etc. For instance, a path can be the route that someone takes every day to go to the office.

- Edges: they are the linear spaces ‘between two phases which are considered as paths’. For instance, in London the Thames’ shore could be an edge.

- Districts: they are what we call neighbourhoods. For instance, in London the Soho is a district.

- Nodes: they are joints, points of connection where people walk through. For example, in Newcastle, Greys Monument is the intersection point of many streets into which citizens enter.

- Landmarks: They are references such as stores, monuments, buildings, signs… in which the citizen does not enter. For instance in Newcastle, landmarks could be the Baltic Museum, Jamie’s Oliver restaurant, The Gate…

Another research whose purpose is to see the common elements that people use to create their mental maps of a city is Towards Intelligent Mapping Applications: A Study Of Elements Found In Cognitive Map by Gary Look and Howard Shrobe. The object of the study is the city of Boston, and the study offers two observations. One observation is the use of metro stations as points of reference, especially when they are ‘located near important places’. The other one, is that prominent places are either ‘large parcels of land’, or ‘neighbourhoods’, or areas with a ‘commercial/cultural impact’.


The size of the sample group was fairly modest, 10 women and 10 men, who ranged in age from 17 to 64, with a mean age of 27. Participants had lived in Madrid anywhere from 2 years to 64 years. Due to the small size of the sample , it is not possible to generalize any findings or to draw any conclusions.

The participants were asked to draw their mental map of Madrid on a piece of paper. In order to avoid any kind of pressure such as not remembering the name of the streets, they were told that any map imperfections were not significant, because what really matters it is their honest and purest image of Madrid.

By analysing the collection of the participants’ maps, it was noted that they had several common elements. These are discussed below in order of their priority. Firstly, they all have drawn the main streets of Madrid, most of them without names, and their points of joints (the nodes). Indeed, at first glance, the nodes (most of them, squares) were the elements that stood out in almost every map. Secondly, most of the maps were distributed by districts (neighbourhoods). Thirdly, most of the maps have pointed out landmarks such as museums, theatres, cinemas, monuments.

In contrast with the studies that were explained previously, in these maps these elements weren’t used: the metro stations, the edges, and the paths.

On the other hand, there are some curious noteworthy observations regarding the common elements on people’s mental map according to the range of ages. At first, the maps drawn by people who were 17 years have a clear and simple structure of the city with the main streets and nodes. However, they pointed out very few landmarks and there wasn’t any district. As for the people who were in their sixties, their maps were full of icons of landmarks and nodes. As a matter of fact, their centre of Madrid was based on the most cultural venue of Madrid, ‘Paseo del Padro’. Regarding people who were 20 to 35 years old, their maps had many details. Landmarks and districts were the most used points of references. They have also pointed out the main venues.

Furthermore, as Lynch has explained in his work, there seems to be a difference (that I’ve realised in my work too) between the mental maps from people who lived in the suburbs and go to the town centre for work and the mental map from people who lived in the centre or next to it. The first group of people ‘think of the city in terms of topography, large regions’, just highlighting the main structure of the city (main roads and main nodes). On the contrary, the second group of people ‘rely more upon small landmarks and less upon either regions or piths’. Their maps had many details about the city like cafes, monuments, museums, specific buildings, etc.


The project work is a prototype of an interactive map of a city based on people’s mental maps of that city, similar to Google Maps App.

Nowadays, everyone uses Google Maps to look for places, both on the computer and mobile phones. Indeed, recent statistics have shown that the ‘Google Maps app is the most popular app in the world’ (Global Web Index, 2013). According to Schöning, Hecht and Kuhn (2014), when we talk about the ‘modern computing experience’ we have to talk about ‘online and mobile maps’ as one of its fundamental elements. Therefore, it is undeniable that the habitat of the map in the 21st century is the online medium.

This prototype of an interactive people’s mental map could be useful for touristic purposes. Most of the people, when they visit an unknown city, would love their visit to be guided by a local person who shows them the customs, local food, interesting places, spaces frequented by locals… instead of going to the ‘tourist traps’. Hence, this map could be a closer approach to this wish as it would be made by local people offering detailed information about local popular restaurants, curious places to visit, how to move through the city, short-cuts, transportation means, etc.


To conclude this reflective essay, I would like to finish with what I have learned in this first semester. As I have mentioned before, digital technologies are a very new field of work for meHowever, after this project, I have the impression that I am on the right track for making most of the second semester.

On one hand, I have experienced the importance of having a theoretical background when we tackle a creative project, for several reasons. Firstly, it acts as guidance for your work. Secondly, it contextualizes the possible findings or improvements that you achieved with your work. Thirdly, it works as boosting point for your creativity, like a place where to start, which is key, at least for me.

On the other hand, I have never done anything related to coding before. I have struggled with the programming software as it has been like (literally) learning a new language for me. Although there is still much for me to learn, I believe that due to the foundation available to me now, coding will be easier in the second semester.. This humble piece of work I have undertaken has encouraged me to keep learning and improving.

REFERENCES -       Siegert, B. (2011) “The map is the territory“, Radical Philosophy 169. Sep/Oct 2011, pp 13-16. -       Lynch, K. (1962). The Image of the City. The MIT Press, Second printing. -       Oliver, J. (2008). Cartofictions: Maps, the Imaginary and GeoSocial Engineering. Madrid:  Inclusiva-net. [Video] Found it (11/15): -       Look, G., & Shrobe, H. (2007). Towards Intellingent Mapping Applications: A Study of Elements Found in Cognitive Maps. Massachusetts: MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. -       Mari, M. (2013). “Top global smartphone apps, who’s in the top 10”. Founded it on Global Web Index  Blog (12/15): -       Schöning, J., Hecht, B., & Kuhn, W. (2014).  Informing Online and Mobile Map Design with the Collective Wisdom of Cartographers. Vancouver: Hasselt University, University of Minnesota & UC Santa Barbara.   [1] Siegert, B. (2011). The map is the territory, Radical Philosophy 169. Sep/Oct 2011, pp 13-16. [2] Lynch, K. (1962). The Image of the City. The MIT Press, Second printing. [3]Oliver, J. (2008). Cartofictions: Maps, the Imaginary and GeoSocial Engineering. Madrid:  Inclusiva-net. [Video] Found it (11/15):

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