Patterns of mental mapping: neighborhoods

Within the mapset of the article “Seeing the city as a delivery driver” (M. Fawaz, D. Salamé, I. Serhan) in Refugees as City-Makers (p60-81), we present two detailed maps of the Hamra and Jeitaoui neighborhoods. These maps show the individual mental maps of drivers for these areas, and how these individual understandings are articulated to form the larger boundary of each neighborhood. (more about how individual boundaries are formed here)

In these maps, we distinguish in more detail the drivers’ individual accounts and show divergences among drivers’ perceptions of a single neighborhood (e.g. boundaries, landmarks). The maps clarify the methodology through which Map 2 (below, or p64-65) was constructed, showing that individual accounts were merged together in a single shape that delineates each of the city’s neighborhoods as it appears on the map.
Interestingly, city neighborhoods are not constructed the same way. By comparing Hamra and Jeitawi, we see, on the one hand, Hamra interlocking with other neighborhoods, […] while on the other hand, Achrafieh acts as a container of smaller entities and sub-neighborhoods […].

While the focus in these maps was the multiple and contrasting nature of individual accounts, in this post I will situate these 2 case studies within a larger set of patterns through which neighborhoods are understood.


4 patterns of neighborhood understanding

Mapping the lived/perceived geographies of the drivers demonstrated that neighborhoods are lived/perceived according to 4 main patterns. In some cases, the typology is very clear, but in many cases, neighborhoods are formed by a combination of two or more of these patterns.

1. Chain Neighborhoods

The neighborhood is understood as a series of interconnected zones, typically overlapping around one or more nodal landmarks.

Below, the examples of Galerie Semaan, Corniche el Mazraa and Mar Mikhael Church neighborhoods show how neighborhoods are understood differently, but connect at nodal points, where one person’s perception meets another’s.

2. Russian Doll Neighborhoods

The neighborhood is understood as a series of expanding zones, contained within one another, typically around one or more polar landmarks.

Achrafieh, detailed above, is a good example of this typology operating at the scale of the city. Below, the example of Tabaris neighborhood – itself contained within Achrafieh – shows how the neighborhood itself expands around a polar landmark.

3. Puzzle Neighborhoods

The neighborhood is understood as clustered in 2 or more distinct areas, overlapping along urban axes.

The example of the Hazmieh neighborhood shows how the spatial understandings diverge. However, many of them overlap along a clear axis (zone inside the dotted line).

4. Split Neighborhoods (multiple)

The neighborhood is understood differently and distinctly in all answers, which might mean that the area is not frequently practiced or unfamiliar.

These patterns, here shown at the neighborhood scale, also exist at the scale of the street and of the city, which we had begun exploring in the map below. Later posts will shed light on these processes, showing how streets affect the understanding of neighborhoods, and how neighborhoods are re-articulated with one another to form an understanding of the city.

Map 2 represents the city as a collection of neighborhoods, defined each according to the overlapping accounts of all interviewed delivery drivers. Each neighborhood is drawn as a fluid shape that includes all the landmarks listed by drivers to be part of this neighborhood. The map reflects the extent to which city knowledge is individual and blurred, with myriad overlapping clusters where neighborhoods are sometimes contained within one another and sometimes too intricately connected to be told apart. In the suburban areas of the city, the neighborhoods tend to become more easily distinguished and their borders more clearly defined. The map also highlights the surfaces of the city that appear to be outside the scope of the drivers and their scooters. These correspond to non-residential areas such as parks (e.g. Horsh Beirut, Hippodrome) and industrial zones, as well as informal settlements and dense low-income neighborhoods (e.g. Chatila, Nabaa).

While the classifications I am proposing tell us about how the city, its neighborhoods and their landmarks are understood and articulated, they also tell us that not all landmarks operate similarly in how they affect one’s perception of a place. There are indeed different types of landmarks (nodal, polar, central, defining, truncating, …) with different kinds of characteristics (they articulate, radiate, define, split, …) that also deserve further investigation.

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