Urbanopticon Wants To Learn How You Mentally Map Your City

By April 6, 2012

The Urbanopticon Project homepage

The University of Cambridge has created an online game asking users to identify areas of London using Google Street View screenshots. Participants of the game are doing more than just testing their skills, as the project aims to learn how its players mentally map different locations around the city, ultimately creating a London-wide map of recognizability.

Urbanopticon’s team was inspired by The Image of the City, a book by Kevin Lynch, which outlines a theory connecting urban recognizability to a person’s well-being. During gameplay, specific areas of London are shown to the player, but the game asks orientational questions like where the nearest transit station is located, or if they can identify generally what section of the city they’re seeing. The team hopes to quantify city dweller’s perceptions by compiling and analyzing the kind of responses they get.

Project information on the website details the key features that will help to create the London map: “By testing which places are remarkable and unmistakable and which places represent faceless sprawl, we are able to draw the recognisability map of London.”

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The game works by giving you ten random images from around the city. Players can either guess the tube station, borough, or click “Don’t know” if they want to move ahead. You’re given a score for each one you guess correctly, and the website even allows you to brag about your impressive recognizability on Facebook or Twitter. Once you’ve completed the game, the website asks you to provide key social details like birth location, place of employment, and familiarity with the city itself.

An ideal outcome of the project will compile enough information to make a useful recognizability map that will help urban committees when placing and designing new buildings, or allow them to locate already existing urban areas that need improvements and renovations. Urbanopticon’s team is looking to continue the project over time, providing analysis of how people’s perceptions change as the city itself makes changes. If the project is a success, the researchers hope to expand to other cities around the world.


Corey Cummings

Corey is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison where he received degrees in English and Creative Writing. He currently lives in Chicago and enjoys alternately obsessing over video games that aren't out yet and crazy gadgets he can't afford.