One aspect of this week’s reading that really stood out to me was the concept of the visual survey – the ability of an individual to create a mental map of their surroundings. The visual survey makes it possible to define areas of the city and to predict how the average pedestrian views their surroundings.
By applying the visual survey to downtown New Brunswick, it’s possible to see areas where the visual survey is strong and serves as an anchoring point to the pedestrian. The analysis of downtown New Brunswick highlights areas where the visual survey is weaker and the mental map more fragmented and less useful. In addition, the visual survey can help identify hard (difficult to develop) and soft (easier to develop) areas to improve the pedestrian experience.
The location of The Heldrich serves as a valuable landmark for the city as it has recognizable architecture and a small park in front. The Heldrich and Monument Square Park are examples of hard areas as they are not likely to be developed in the near future and provide a strong foundation to build around.
Strong Example: Clock Tower
This clock tower on the corner of Livingston Ave. and George Street offers another location that is likely to stick in the mind of the average pedestrian. The clock tower is unique in the fact that it is the only one along this section of the city and is situated in a location close to commercial activity. As a result of this location, the clock tower clearly indicates what Kevin Lynch calls: “a node of activity”.
Strong Example: Tumulty’s Pub
Tumulty’s Pub is a wonderful example of a hard area and strong mental landmark. The facade of the building in contrast to its neighbors help the building ‘pop’ and stick in the memory of the ordinary pedestrian. In addition, the building is right up against the sidewalk and fosters an inviting aura.
Weak Example: Nondescript Intersection
This intersection along George St. and Lincoln Highway does poorly in a visual survey simply because of the fact that it is unremarkable. None of the buildings have character and there is little that can serve as a landmark for one trying to navigate through the city.
Weak Example: Setback Store Front
While the earlier example of Tumulty’s Pub demonstrated how a building could look appealing and inviting to a pedestrian – surefire ways to be remembered – these 2 setback entrances have the opposite effect. The entrances appear to be disconnected from the sidewalk and there is no memorable facade or architecture to distinguish the buildings from the rest of the street.
Weak Example: Closed Park
Although this park does serve a purpose as creating a mental map landmark, the use (or lack thereof) of the area damages the pedestrian perception of the area. This soft area could be improved to become a positive landmark that could be better used by the community.
In my brief analysis of the New Brunswick downtown area I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of positive landmark locations that I came across. These landmarks not only make it easier for me to navigate the streets, but they also allow for me to convey directions to others who may not be as familiar with the area. There are some soft areas that could be improved but for the most part New Brunswick has a strong pedestrian experience.