Wayfinding, Movement, and Mobility by Aga Skorupka

Human movement can be understood as making one’s way through a space. Movement needs to be differentiated from the more narrow term wayfinding often used in the literature on movement and usually defined as finding one’s way from an origin to a destination (see e.g. Allen, 1999). While wayfinding constitutes an important topic of interest for cognitively oriented scientists,  it has also become predominant in the discourse on human movement in environmental psychology (for example, Bechtel and Churchman in their Handbook of Environmental Psychology devote a whole chapter solely to wayfinding). However, while navigation and wayfinding are undoubtedly a part of our life, they are not necessarily the only nor dominant ways we move around the environment.

Traditionally,  environmental social science and in particular cognitively oriented environmental social science, has focused on wayfinding as a particular type of movement. Both psychology and geography have provided insights into the cognitive processes directing decisions made by people as they find their way though their environments (Golledge 1999; Neisser 1976); how they are influenced by individual differences (Galea and Kimura 1993); and strategies that are employed to find one’s way in an environment (Hölscher et al. 2006; Lawton 1996). We now also know more about the development of spatial cognition (Hart and Moore, 1976) and route and spatial learning (Golledge et al. 1995).

Recent work is shifting this focus onto walkability, or the extent to which the environment supports and encourages walking (Southworth 2005). Environmental correlates of walking that have been identified in a number of studies (Owen et al. 2004; Saelens et al. 2003; Saelens and Handy 2008), include concepts of proximity, accessibility and connectivity. Space Syntax is another analytic approach that emphasizes the physical qualities of the environment that correlate with the amount of human movement taking place in a particular space (Bafna 2003; Hillier et al. 1993). Finally, human movement in space is now being analyzed from a critical theory perspective. This approach asserts that human movement rather than taking place in a an abstract space usually happens in a socio-economic and cultural context of spatiality. The term mobility is used to bring out this distinction and to emphasize that everyday movement is socially produced (Creswell 2006). The readings below speak across and from these perspectives to convey theories and work about wayfinding, movement, and mobility in order to address movement in the most holistic way possible.

Aga Skorupka, PhD, is a graduate of Environmental Psychology Program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. In her academic work she has been focusing on evidence based design, or applying research findings to design process. More specifically, her research interests include design for human mobility, wayfinding and walkability. She has an extensive experience in consulting in projects on place-making and public participation in urban planning both in the US, Poland and Norway. Currently Aga is working with the Nordic Urban Design Association as well as being a guest lecturer at the University of Warsaw.


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 Supported by the CUNY Doctoral Students Council.