I’ve been thinking a lot about good and bad wayfinding while doing research for an urban design workshop; we are focusing on an industrial area (Portland’s Central Eastside Industrial District) that has notoriously bad legibility and hence is difficult to navigate.

I always wondered why I prefer using a paper map over blow-by-blow instructions (whether on a GPS or a friend’s directions); without the context, I still felt lost.  Well, someone’s been researching and writing about it! Here’s a fascinating piece by Mikaela Skiles about how simplified cartographic signs can help people construct a mental map of an area.   I’m tickled that some of the examples are from here in Oregon!

Ralf Herrmann’s site, where I found this article, is a fantastic resource as well and is a breath of fresh air here in the U.S., where signage, in my view is often ridiculously text-heavy.  Among other things, there is an interesting discussion of an app that allows users to collect good and bad practices in wayfinding. I can’t wait to try it!


What I’m reading…

How many of you have sat through an urban design class watching slide after slide of Italian city street scenes, and (if you’re in the U.S.) wondering how practicable such examples are stateside?

After lamenting the lack of a humanist approach in American planning, I stumbled upon an intriguing book (available as an e-book) that I hope to dig into more in the coming weeks:

American Urban Architecture: Catalysts in the Design of Cities

It is described as the following:  “Conceiving of urban design in terms of architectural actions and reactions, Attoe and Logan propose a theory of “catalytic architecture” better suited to specifically American circumstances than the largely European models developed in the last thirty years for the remaking of cities.”

American Urban Form also looks intriguing.

Any other recommended summer reading on comparative urban design and form?

Welcome! Come wander with me.

I am a student of urban planning with a fascination with words, images, and symbols.  A polyglot, musician and sometimes-poet, I plan to use this space to explore the areas where place, language, and identity intersect on the canvas of urban planning and life.  At least that’s my plan so far.  I may touch on the spiritual and musical as well, to the degree they relate.  We’ll see.

My motivation for this space comes from a desire to reflect on topics which seem to get short shrift in the planning literature but which were those which drew me to the planning field in the first place.  For instance, my degree program has a decidedly social science orientation that at times seems divorced from the origins of planning, which, historically, has had very close ties with architecture and landscape architecture.  To get a fresh perspective, this enrolled in a Design and the City course in Helsinki to help loosen me from the very technical American approach to planning and remind me of a more humanistic orientation that seems to underpin European planning.

However, this isn’t going to be a design blog. In fact, sometimes it seems to me that any creative thought that occurred in the planning process has been relegated to visual design process, aka urban design.  Yet most of the writers who have inspired me over the years – including Annie Dillard, Kathleen Norris, and Czeslaw Milosz, as well as Estonian and Latvian poets such as Ivar Ivask and Linards Tauns, are those who grapple with place, language and identity, all concepts that should be part of any planner’s vocabulary.  One question, therefore, I would like to ask is: what role do (or should) writers and poets have in forming (and informing) spaces that people inhabit, either physically or mentally?  What can they tell us about the places and the people for whom we plan?

This page’s name comes from the underappreciated glyph known as the interrobang, which combines an exclamation point with a question mark into a single symbol that simultaneously indicates both surprise and confusion or doubt.  To be sure, the interrobang has a certain snarkiness that is appealing and edgy, but I think it also has a gentler side that can convey a blend of wonder and curiosity that lends itself well to my topic.

Welcome to my wanderings and wonderings!

(Please note — I’m not an academic and this isn’t meant to be an academic blog.  I’ll do my best to be accurate in my descriptions but I’m not going to get hung up over details. I don’t intend to get into long theoretical debates or quibble over definitions.  There are plenty of other places we can do that.)