Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

Legibility and liveability: a critique

Malcolm Miles


The terms legibility and livability are widely, though differently, used in discusión of city form and city cultures. The former follows Lynch (1960) and refers to the need for easily read landmarks and other visual features in the spatial configuration of a city, and has been adopted by urban designers; its use is that it takes attention away from buildings to the spaces between them. The latter is used particularly in US debate, is the subject of annual conferences and a certain literature, and indicates the provision of urban spaces for conviviality. Similarly, the pioneering work of W H Whyte in New York in the 1970s emphasized the need for provision of flexible, small urban social spaces.

But, progressive though they were once, whose city do these frames figure?

The paper ventures a critique of what have become familiar if rather universalized concepts, and begins by contrasting them with images of other presences at street level – for instance in Davis (1990), and the projections onto public monuments of artist Krzysztof Wodiczko. From a perception of difference, the paper critiques legibility as a conventionally visual and distancing approach to cities, and livability as the export of a culture (way of life) specific to a particular social vantage-point. It concludes that other frames are needed to develop other kinds of tools for conviviality (Illich), or to recognize moments of presence (Lefebvre) in everyday urban lives.

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