What Time is This Place?
In one's own image of a city or of a larger environment, the sense of place is inextricably meshed with the sense of time—a financial district that bustles on Friday is transformed into a lifeless concrete desert by Sunday, or the deposits of slow historic change can be spotted around a neighborhood, or renewal bulldozers can suddenly revive a long-suppressed memory of time past. Time and Place—Timeplace—is a continuum of the mind, as fundamental as the spacetime that may be the ultimate reality of the material world.
Kevin Lynch's book deals with this human sense of time, a biological rhythm that may follow a different beat from that dictated by external, "official," "objective" timepieces. The center of his interest is on how this innate sense affects the ways we view and change—or conserve, or destroy—our physical environment, especially in the cities.
The author states, "We have elsewhere [in The Image of the City, The MIT Press, 1960] discussed the image of the spatial environment—the mental representation of the character and structure of the geographic world—as a scaffold to which we attach many meanings and a guide by which we can order our movements. This image has an immediate practical role in our lives, and also a deeper psychological one.... Many parallel statements can be made about the environmental image of time.... Both have intimate connections with the aesthetics of landscape and more general implications for social structure and social change. It is evident that we should think of an environmental image that is both spatial and temporal, just as we must design settings in which the distribution of qualities in both time and space are considered."
The book is illustrated with numerous photographs and marginal drawings that lend further specificity to its analysis. It opens with several case histories of cities transformed by time: London after the Great Fire of 1666; Bath, the preserved city, embedded in the amber of the eighteenth century; Stoke-on-Trent, an industrial wasteland, a disaster area not because it was destroyed but because it was built; Ciudad Guyana, a new but not an instant city; and Havana, container for social revolution.
The next chapters take up place as an emblem and embodiment of past, present, and future time. "The Time Inside" deals with the biology and psychology of time and with its social aspects. An interlude follows, illustrating the symbols of time in a particular place (Boston) and quoting the residents on how they respond to their timeplace. The analysis resumes, taking up the aesthetics of environmental time, the proper management of change, and the relation (or lack of one) between environmental and social change. A final chapter looks at all these themes from a general perspective.
About the Author
Kevin Lynch (1918-1984) studied with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin and later obtained a Bachelor of City Planning degree from MIT. After a long and distinguished career on the faculty of the MIT School of Architecture and Urban Planning, he was named Professor Emeritus of City Planning.
"This book is highly recommended."—Planning