(james benedict brown) on the road

Paths, edges and nodes

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 18 December, 2006

There is a very direct pedestrian route from our house in Sheffield to the city’s railway station.  I first discovered it two years ago when I started making flying weekend visits back here from Northern Ireland. It took some close examination of the A-Z to work it out, but once we had found there was no denying that it was near as could possibly be to being a dead straight line from door to door.

I’ve walked this route many times, and almost always in the very early hours of the morning. It’s a pleasurable route to walk, since it cuts right across rather than follows the busiest roads between here and the station. Dark side streets and secretive alleys all join together to form an invisible line from our home on the hill to the many destinations offered by the railways station. All journeys seem to start along this same quiet walk through the back streets of Sheffield, and they usually commence at night, in the imperceptible period after the last clubbers have come home and before the first commuters have got up.

Today I walked this route with BMM to put her on the Voyager train that would take her home for Christmas. So unusually, and somewhat regrettably, I was able to do a round trip, or at least return as far as the University, where I diverted to catch up on some work on the computer and to surprise Arts Tower’s the cleaning ladies.

Kevin Lynch was an American planner who became known to generations of architecture students through his 1960 book The Image of the City. In the book, Lynch explains that we experience and perceive the city through five elements, neatly summarised by a Wikipedia user as paths (the streets, sidewalks, trails, and other channels in which people travel); edges (perceived boundaries such as walls, buildings, and shorelines); districts (relatively large sections of the city distinguished by some identity or character); nodes (focal points, intersections or loci) and landmarks (readily identifiable objects which serve as reference points). A ‘Lynchian’ analysis of a city is an essential component of any second or third year architecture project, although it usually requires a certain critique if it is to gain any marks. Lynch based his research on studies in three American cities, and it seems fair to say that he didn’t really take into account the multi-layered nature of many European cities, where street plans of many different periods overlap and partially replace each other. The path we follow to the station has no real urban coherence, and yet it functions in my mind as the most logical way to walk from my home to a frequent destination. It also entertains and awakes me on cold winter mornings, when everyone is still asleep, and the first tram has yet to run.

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