What Time is This Place?
In the personal image of a city, the sense of place is meshed with the sense of time. A financial district that bustles on Friday is a lifeless desert on Sunday. Any neighborhood has its deposits of slow historic change, and the bulldozers can suddenly release a buried memory of time past. Time-place is a continuum of the mind, as fundamental as the space-time 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 follows a different beat from most “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 image of the spatial environment [is] a scaffold to which we attach meanings and a guide by which we 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 images have intimate connections with the esthetics of landscape, and both have general implications for social structure and social change.”
The book is illustrated with numerous photographs and marginal drawings that make its analysis specific. It opens with several case histories of cities transformed by time: London after the Great Fire of 1666; Bath, the city preserved in eighteenth-century amber; Stoke-on-Trent, scarred by centuries of industrial development; Ciudad Guayana, a new but not an instant city; and Havana, a 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 illustrates the symbols of time in a particular place (Boston) and allows residents to comment on how they respond to this time-place. The analysis resumes, taking up the esthetics 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.