Good City Form – Lynch

I appreciate this book for what it is, despite feeling that much more could have been covered with much less pages.

Lynch, like other urban planners I recently read, enjoys rambling excessively about everything and describing in detail the obvious.

"A good place is one which, in some way appropriate to the person and her culture, makes her aware of her community, her past, the web of life, and the universe of time and pace in which those are contained."

Lynch's big goal here is to reunite urban planning with good living, you cannot address one without the other. He is arguing that a State is as much its social form (politics) as it's physical form (urban planning).


This is basically everyone. Here's what you need to know about this book:

  • Lynch attempts to create a framework of values in which any city from any civilisation can be measured.
  • He makes the argument that these are human values, not urban planning ones.
  • At a high level these are: Sense (as in sensibility), fit, access, control, efficiency and justice.
  • What I love about his book is that Lynch shares the same view that got me interested in urban planning; urban planning is the physical manifestation of a state, hence equally important to human happiness as politics/law/governance.
  • To drive this point home, Lynch even has a chapter making a half asses (knowingly) attempt at describing a Utopian society, focusing holistically on culture, norms, form, etc.


  • Would be a great book for an alien race to read about how humans form cities. It covers much mundanely obvious factors and motivations of people living in cities, making it at times a slow read.
  • A city is an ecosystem – a set or organisms in a habitat that bear relation to other organisms and the inorganic setting.
  • A learning ecosystem – Lynch believes since humans are rational and self-influencing, they are different from normal ecosystems. Hence he classifies our cities as "learning ecosystems".
  • Core principles: Continuity, connection, and openness.
  • A city which invites creation is better than a perfectly created city.
  • All planning is done around the importance of the "family unit" should this every change, our cities and houses would be very different.
  • Form theory gives good mechanisms for objectively measuring a city, but passes no judgement on what a good city is. The value judgements come from the values, needs, and culture of the people living in it. Hence CityA can be good for GroupA but bad for GroupB.
  • Aristotle said that a city should not get to a 100,000 because at that point it ceases to be a city since it's residence can no longer no each other's character, and hence resolving justice would be impossible. Really though, there is no optimum size for every city, but there is for each individual city based on it's geography, culture, economy, politics, etc.
  • Local control is often what leads to segregation as clusters of similar interested people gather and exclude other minorities.
  • The dispersion of any attribute (income, access, etc) can be thought of as the grain of the city. A city with a coarse grain has distinct separation between uses of areas. A fine grain is more evenly intertwined, integrated, spread out.
  • As soon as anyone discusses a utopian anything, we instinctively shut off and think how unrealistic and unlikely it is to work.
  • The beauty of capitalism is its decentralisation. Any form of tightly controlled order leads to inefficiencies, potential for corruption, and ultimately, failure.
  • Politics is intricately tied to city planning. City planning is intricately tied to politics.
  • A state is as much its social form (politics) as it's physical forms (urban planning).
  • His utopian ideals are about human connection with nature, appreciation and care about city form, rationality and cooperation, healthy consumption, emotional, scientific, and spiritual development of people.


  • "The good city is one in which the continuity of this complex ecology is maintaned while progressive change is poermitted. The fundemental good is the continous development of the individual or the small group and their culture: a process of becoming more complex, more richly connected, more competent, aquiring and realizing new powers. If human life is a continued state of becoming, then its continuity is founded on growth and development (and its development on continuity: the statement is circular). If development is a process of becoming more competent and more richly connected, then an increasing sense of connection to one’s environment in space and in timne is one aspect of growth. So that settlement is good in which enhances the continuity of a culture and the survival of its people, increases a sense of connection in time ans space, and permits or spurs individual growth: developmnent, within continutiy, via openness and connection."
  • “There is an inherent tension as well as a circularity between continuity and development – between the stabilities and connections needed for coherence and the ability to change and grow. Those cultures whose organizing ideas and institutions deal successfully with that tension and circularity are presumably more desirable.”
  • “Sensible, identifiable places are convenient pegs to hang personal memories, feelings, and values. Place identity is closely linked to personal identity. 'I am here' supports 'I am'”
  • "Tourism is based on a superficial exploitation of this same sense of place. Not many of us, however, experience that abiding pleasure of daily life in a distinctive environment."
  • "A good place is one which, in some way appropriate to the person and her culture, makes her aware of her community, her past, the web of life, and the universe of time and pace in which those are contained."
  • " Arguments for optimum size are based on its effectson social intercourse, on polotical and social contrl, on the vitality of the environment because of accumulated pollution, on tolerable levels of social and perceptual stimulus, on travel time, on economic production, and on the costs of maintaining cities of different sizes."
  • "The mental sense of connection to nature in a more general sense is a basic human satisfaction, the most profound aspect of sensibility".
  • "The private car makes our cities less habitable: it kills, it maims, and it loads the air with its noise and its exhausts. It consumes petroleum and is expensive to run. Any system which relies heavily on it is an inequitable system, since the access of those without cards is inevitably poorer than that of drivers."
  • "Those peculiar warlike entities called nations no longer exist, of course." – on a utopia world
  • "People are by no means ascetics, however. On the contrary, they find great pleasure in the physical world, in creating and consuming fine things in an elegant way. It is the exclusive control of goods, or their sheer quantity, which has lost its savour. The joy of things lies in making them, in using them, or even in destroying them."
  • "In brief, human beings are no longer an uncontrolled disease of nature, but have come to accept smoe responsibility for being a dominant species – stewards and not masters."
  • "Strategies for decline as well as strategies for growth."
  • "The planet is a festival, a drama, and a remembrance."
  • "But all would agree that the development of oneself, of one's community, and of the living place is high are and high science, the fundamental ethical action."



  • Sustenance – the adequacy of the throughput of water, air, energy, and waste.
  • Safety – absence of environmental poisons, diseases, and hazards
  • Consonance – the degree of fit between the environment and the human requirements of internal temperature, body rhythm, sensory input, and body function

Sense (sensibility)

  • Sensibility is important as a foundation for people to create social and personal identity and culture.
  • Identity
  • Ability for a place to have a shared experience across people who live there and be recognizable from that identity.
  • Linked to a personal sense of being, "I am here" supports "I am".
  • Structure
  • A common, easy, relatable mental model of the city.
  • Lacking structure means lacking orientation.
  • Congruence
  • Do the abstract forms of the place match the abstract form of it's functions.
  • E.g. is city form most intense at peaks of activity.
  • Does the city form match the functions?
  • Transparency
  • If a city form is congruent than it is likely to be transparent.
  • How easy is it to understand part of a city's function from it's form.
  • Legibility
  • How effectively are social norms communicated through implicit and explicit symbols.
  • Significance
  • How meaningful is the values, ideas, etc that a city conveys through the above mechanisms?


  • How well does the city form fir the needs of the humans.
  • How comfortable is the environment for the acts of daily living.
  • Are the doors the right size to be comfortably opened? Are the gutters too large to step up.
  • Mostly follows behavior, but at times can be used to shape behavior.
  • Is there a good fit between behavior and form.
  • Flexibility allows for future users to adapt the city form in ways that were unknown to the original planners. Too much flexibility obviously means lacking structure.
  • The more adaptable and flexible you are however, the quicker you loose ties to historical context and culture.


  • How accessible are the things within the city.
  • Less than 20 minutes is a negligible transit differences.
  • Do people have to drive, can they afford cars?
  • You can improve the accessibility of the city by either changing it's form or its function.
  • Home farms are more accessible because people don't have to travel.
  • Working from home is another way to reduce "time cost" of access, as now you don't have to go through peak hour traffic.
  • While access is good, we often fall into the trap of thinking it is the only good. Cities should be accessible, but that should be balanced with the other form qualities.


  • "Ownership is a human convention that allocates present control, sufficient for homan purpose, amongt existing people. It is neither permanent nor total."
  • Ownership: spacial right (the right to occupy), use and action, appropriation (the right to use in a way that prevents others from using it), modification, disposition (give my rights to someone else)
  • In different societies, "control" or "ownership" may comprise of a different grouping of the above factors. I.e. ownership does not always mean all.
  • Congruence of ownership is important. Do the people who use it own it. How permanent is their ownership?
  • Greater congruence usually means better preservation and care, since the people who use are also rewarded for preserving it.
  • While local control is good, this often will mean a lack of thinking for future users, hence there needs to be limitations, restrictions applied to local control to ensure this.
  • Clear certainty and predictability of the control of space is cruicial for people to trust and interact with it effectively.
  • A good settlement is one in which place control is certain, responsible, and congruent, both to it's users (present, potential, and future) and also to the structure of the problems of the place.

Efficiency and Justice

  • Efficiency is the ability for a city to perform well in to conflicting values.
  • A city whose access is highly effecient would also retain good local control and space.
  • Effeciency is how the benefits from a single factor improve multiple values.
  • Justice is the equality of the city's form.
  • Does it lend to affordable housing, or does it create segregation?
  • Is there equality in access, space, control, etc.


Sebastian Kade, Founder of Sumry and Author of Living Happiness, is a software designer and full-stack engineer. He writes thought-provoking articles every now and then on

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